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White House Spins Iraqi Polling

Tony Snow says two polls on Iraqi optimism are "diametrically opposed." A close look shows otherwise.


Results of an ABC News survey of public opinion in Iraq found much pessimism as the fourth anniversary of the war approached. When asked for comment, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow cited a British poll which he said offered a “different conclusion.” The British poll’s summary did sound less gloomy, but a close look at the numbers showed that the actual results of the two polls are similar.


On March 19th, ABC News, and its news media partners, announced the results of a new survey of public opinion in Iraq, the third in a series of Iraqi polls it has conducted roughly every year and a half beginning in February 2004. The previous poll was released in November 2005, and its findings were trumpeted by President Bush as proof that “Iraqis are optimistic — and that optimism is justified.” At that time we found that Bush was citing the polls findings selectively, and that neither Bush nor his critics had accurately painted the full complexity of Iraqi public opinion.

This time the Bush administration isn’t embracing the latest poll at all. It found “a draining away of the underlying optimism that once prevailed.” Conclusions were so unrelentingly negative that the report is titled, “Ebbing Hope in a Landscape of Loss.”

When asked about these findings at a press briefing, Press Secretary Snow replied that “there was also a British poll at the same time that had almost diametrically opposed results.” That mischaracterizes the British poll.

Snow is referring to a poll conducted by the British firm Opinion Research Business. There is nothing in the ORB poll results that contradicts ABC’s poll findings. In fact, when the two survey companies asked similar questions, their results were very much in line.  For example:

ABC Poll

Q2. Compared to the time before the war in Spring 2003, are things overall in your life much better now, somewhat better, about the same, somewhat worse or much worse?

42% -“Better”

36% -“Worse”

ORB “British” Poll

Q8. Taking everything into account, do you feel that things are better for you now under the present political system or do you think things were better for you before under the previous regime of Saddam Hussein?

49% -“Better under the current system”

26% -“Better under the previous regime”

So the British poll found a somewhat greater share of its sample – 49 percent as opposed to 42 in the ABC poll – saying that life is better under the current regime. However, the difference is not much more than the statistical margins of error (+/- 1.4% for ORB, +/- 2.5% for ABC). The polls were completed within 11 days of each other in February and early March.

What is different is the way the British poll presents its findings. The press release from ORB says:

ORB: The poll shows that despite the horrendous personal security problems only 26% of the country preferred life under the previous regime of Saddam Hussein, with almost half (49%) preferring life under the current political system.

This language is markedly more positive than the summary of the ABC poll, despite there being little real difference in the results. It is ABC’s poll, however, that digs far more deeply. ABC asked 54 questions (beyond demographic ones such as, “age” and “profession”) to the British poll’s eight. ABC (and its partners, the BBC, USA Today and ARD German TV) asked Iraqis dozens of questions about quality of life, compared with ORB’s two or three. ABC can also measure historical trends by comparing three sets of answers to the same questions over a 36 month period.

It’s worth considering the source of the British poll. ORB lists Britan’s Conservative Party (the tories) as a client, the leader of which describes it as “sister party” to the U.S. Republicans. The Conservative Party supported the invasion of Iraq and supports the presence of the “Coalition of the Willing” there.

Press Secretary Snow was pushed at the March 19 press briefing to comment officially on the ABC poll and he reiterated that, ” there was a British poll with twice the sample that reached a different conclusion.” ORB’s sample size is 5,019. ABC’s is 2,212. Either way, the actual numbers of the British poll seem only to bolster the grim conclusions of ABC’s.

Continue reading to view comparisons of three other similar questions from the two polls.

Preferred Government

ABC Poll

Q14: Which of the following structures do you believe Iraq should have in the future?

58% –”One unified Iraq with  central government in Baghdad

28% -“A group of regional states with their own regional governments and a a federal government in Baghdad”

14% -“Dividing the country into separate independent states”

ORB “British” Poll

Q5: On balance, which of the following alternatives would you prefer for the future of Iraq ?

64% -“The current system, Iraq a single country with a central national government”

21% -“A new federal system with independent regional governments for areas such as the Kurdish North, Sunni West, and Shia South”


 Exposure to Violence

ABC Poll

Q35: Have you or an immediate family member – by which I mean someone living in this household – been physically harmed by the violence that is occurring in the country at this time?

17% -“Yes”

83% -“No”

Q37: Do you have any close personal friends or immediate family members living outside this household who have been physically harmed by violence that is occurring in the country at this time?

47% -“Yes”

53% -“No”

ORB “British” Poll

Q3: Which of the following have you personally experienced in the last three years?

26% -“The murder of a member of my family/relative”

12% – “The murder of a friend or colleague”

8% -“The kidnapping of a member of my family/relative”

6% -“The kidnapping of a friend or colleague”

50% -“None of the above”


 Civil War?

ABC Poll

Q52. Do you think Iraq is or is not involved in a civil war at this time?

42% -“Yes”

56% -“No”

ORB “British” Poll

Q4. Which of the following comes closest to your own opinion about the state of Iraq at the moment?

27% -” Iraq is in a state of civil war”

22% -” Iraq is close to a state of civil war but not in one yet.”

18% -” Iraq is still some way from a civil war”

21% -“I don’t think Iraq will ever get as far as a civil war”


Supporting Documents

View the ABC/USA Today/BBC/ARD Sponsored Polling Summary: “Ebbing Hope in a Landscape of Loss Marks a National Survey in Iraq.”

View ORB Poll Findings from: “Public Attitudes in Iraq – Four Years Later.”


Langer, Gary, “Voices From Iraq 2007: Ebbing Hope in a Landscape of Loss,” ABC News. 19 March 2007.

Bush, George, “President’s Address to the Nation,” White House. 18 Dec 2005.

Snow, Tony, “Press Briefing,” White House. 19 March 2007.

Opinion Business Research, “March 07 – Despite violence only 26% preferred life under Saddam,” News Release. 7 March 2007.