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How Big a Bump Will Bush Get from Saddam’s Capture?

It seems likely we’ll see some kind of bump up in Bush’s approval ratings and related indicators with the capture of Saddam Hussein. But it seems unlikely that the bump he gets will be particularly large or particularly long-lived. As for the idea that Saddam’s capture somehow eliminates the President’s Iraq problem and makes him a lock for re-election....puh-leeze, you’ve got be kidding me.

The three big problems with Iraq have been–and will continue to be–casualties, financial costs and WMD (the abundance of the first two and the lack of the third). It is these problems that have undercut public support for the Iraq war and occupation, not the failure to capture Saddam. Nor has the failure to capture Saddam been central to the arguments of Democrats and others who have criticized the war and how it has been conducted. Therefore–unless Saddam’s capture really does break the back of the Iraqi resistance, which seems quite unlikely–his capture, by itself, is unlikely to produce either a large short-term bump for Bush or a significant boost in Bush’s chances for re-election, eleven long months from now.

Polls taken right after Saddam’s capture support this viewpoint. The ABC News/Washington Post poll shows a modest bump in Bush’s approval rating from 53 percent percent a week ago to 57 percent today. Note that the latter figure is exactly where Bush’s rating in this poll was in mid-November which, in turn, was 20 points lower than it was in early April.

Approval of Bush’s handling of Iraq gets a larger bump, from 48 percent in mid-November up to 58 percent today. But that’s still 17 points below where this measure was at the end of April. Moreover, Saddam’s capture seems to have had little effect on the public’s perception of whether the Iraq war was worth fighting, considering its costs and benefits. In mid-November, 52 percent thought the war worth fighting and 44 percent did not; after Saddam’s capture, 53 percent now think war worth fighting and 42 percent do not. Finally, 90 percent think big challenges lie ahead in Iraq versus only 9 percent who feel the big challenges are over.

The Gallup poll finds a similarly minor change (up 3 points) in the number who believe “the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over”. On the critical issue of casualties, 67 percent believe Saddam’s capture will either result in only a minor drop in US combat deaths (41 percent) or have no effect on combat deaths (26 percent). And–speaking directly to one of the issues raised above–a very modest 3 percent say they were not planning to vote to re-elect Bush prior to Hussein’s capture but now feel that it’s more likely that they will do so. That’s in comparison to the 45 percent who were planning to vote for Bush prior to the capture and the 43 percent who were planning to vote against Bush and say the capture hasn’t changed their minds.

Bush, no doubt, is hoping for a much larger bump from Saddam’s capture, since all the other things that were supposed to have that effect recently haven’t: economic good news; the passage of the Medicare bill; and the Thanksgiving Day surprise visit to the troops in Iraq. The latest Newsweek poll, taken right before Saddam’s capture, gives Bush a 51 percent approval rating, down a point since their last poll in the first week of November (more evidence that the early December Gallup bounce is suspect–see DR’s December 11 post). And his re-elect number–those who say they would like to see Bush re-elected to another term–remains low at 45 percent, with 50 percent saying they would prefer not to see him re-elected.

And Bush continues to get a number of net negative approval ratings in important areas: 45 percent approval/46 percent disapproval on the economy; 45 percent approval/50 percent disapproval on Iraq, 31 percent approval/55 percent disapproval on the federal budget deficit and–significantly, in light of the recent passage of the Medicare bill–35 percent approval/52 percent disapproval on health care, essentially unchanged from early November.

Most intriguingly, on a number of current Bush administration policies, voters who say they are less likely to vote for Bush because of these policies outnumber those who say they are more likely. This includes the Bush administration’s Iraq policy and decision to go to war (40 percent less likely/39 more likely); the way Bush and his administration have handled the situation in Iraq (44 percent less likely/34 percent more likely); the amount of money the US is spending to rebuild Iraq (54 percent less likely/18 percent more likely); the current state of the economy and job situation (37 percent less likely/30 percent more likely) and the recently passed and signed Medicare bill (36 percent less likely/27 percent more likely).

In DR’s view, it’s going to take more than the capture of Saddam Hussein to turn around these sentiments.


No, sorry, Ruy. It's a very big deal.

The only way to begin to get around it is to remind voters that Saddam, for all his evilosity, had nothing to do with 9/11, as far as anyone knew prior to the war. So in essence, Bush did the Iraqis, and no one else, a big favor.

A favor that's cost hundreds of American lives, thousands of Iraqi lives, cost 200 billion and counting, and provides Americans, who paid for it, with not even the smallest amount of extra security to show for it all.

In fact, the whole favor has earned America the enmity of the entire world, including, now that the occupation will continue indefinitely, the majority of Iraqis.

If, as I expect, the attacks on American troops do not abate, capturing Saddam would only increase the sense of a quagmire in, and despair over, Iraq. At least while Saddam was at large, there was a ready, if not particularly plausible, excuse for the attacks: it's just the dead-enders acting on Saddam's orders. Thus, his capture or killing might suggest a way out. But if the attacks continue without him, who can believe it will ever end? What event might possibly change it? In that case, virtually all hope will be lost.

Although capturing Saddam is a big plus for the whole Iraq effort, I think Bush is in still in trouble for a reason that is hard for us democrats to see: Bush's "conservative" base touts the philosophy of selfishness as a virtue - therefore they are not really interested in "democracy in Iraq". They only liked the war as a get-yer-rocks-off, we-kick-butt thrill experience. The long, bloody, expensive, boring tail out of the uncertain project to plant a friendly government in the heart of the middle east may already have turned them off. I think Bush is missing his target when he talks about how great it is to be saving the Iraqi people. How is that going to appeal to people who aren't even interested in saving crack babies here at home in Oakland?

"The three big problems with Iraq have been–and will continue to be–casualties, financial costs and WMD (the abundance of the first two and the lack of the third)."

Is there all that much polling data that indicates a WMD problem for the administration? Maybe the widespread media talking point about how most people don't care about that issue anymore isn't true, but are there some numbers that can provide evidence of that?

Is anybody else as furious as I am about Lieberman's comments yeterday about Dean and Iraq? Bush and Rove must have loved it. I sent a rather pointed e-mail to Lieberman suggesting that giving Rove ammunition against the most likely Dem nominee might not do his reputation in the party a lot of good. I encourage others to do the same.

By the way, have any of you gone over to Dean's site and read his foriegn policy statement? What do you think?

Seems to me that Sunni fear of a Shiite-dominated, post-Saddam government is the the real fuel behind the resistance. Saddam's capture will do little to reassure Sunni fear that a Shiite dominated government is likely to result in large scale revenge for centuries of Sunni oppression. Seems like the media doesn't really cover these issues.

upper left, I thought Dean's foreign policy speech was pretty good. I just flipped by C-SPAN a little while ago and saw the part where he took questions afterwards, and I definitely liked what I heard. His argument for the 3 different scenarios in which the US should use military force is quite solid, and I think he should refine that and make sure to keep putting his opposition to the Iraq war within that broader context. I'm confident that he will, and I'm definitely more comfortable with what he's saying now than I was with some of the stuff he was saying earlier this year. Of course, as a Clark supporter, I think my guy's the best one on this issue, but it doesn't look like I have many substantive differences from Dean on this either.

As I've said on comment threads here and elsewhere on numerous occasions, we really need to come together on foreign policy. At a minimum, that means that both pro- and anti-Iraq war Dems have to acknowledge that we've got way more in common with each other on this than the various campaigns are admitting. Those of us who supported the war (like me) have no illusions about Bush's dishonesty and incompetence, and those of us who opposed it have no illusions about the irresponsibility of much of the isolationist far-left. Let's really get the adults back in charge, and leave the sniping children (much of the Naderite left on one side, and pretty much the entire Republican party on the other) to yell at each other from the sidelines.

If American kids keep getting killed in Iraq, the bump won't last for long.

The Bush admin is making hay while the sun shines, but their calling in of Baker indicates desperation. And if Iraq is still on the table in the run up to the general election, how will they explain away images like this:


We already know that Bush is only getting a small bump from the capture itself. The bigger questions are (1) whether this will change the dynamic on the ground in Iraq and (2) whether ongoing media coverage of Saddam and his trial will flood the airwaves with material that supports the case for war and thereby GWB.

Most pundits seem to think that the answer to (1) is that it won't. The answer to (2) is under the control of the Bush administration to some extent, as they control the process of interrogation and trial.

First the plastic turkey, now this: more proof we must not make the mistake of fighting the last battle/election.

The worst mistake one can make is to try to fight the last battle over again. Witness the cavalry charges of 1914. Or France's Maginot line, designed for WW1, captured in ww2.

Al Gore is making this mistake. His attitude ("To hell with the polls, tactics and all that" he said, explaining his endorsement of Dean - http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1104370,00.html ) might have helped if he had a time machine and could go back the last election, but it's not the last election anymore. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Dean supporter's image of this election is that it will be like 2000, needing a strong get-out-the-base effort to get out 300 voters in Florida, and a strong leader and movement to fight against the Supreme Court coup. (And of course, the military-supporter vote was not up for grabs and foreign policy was irrelevant.)

But THIS election is different. We HATE Bush, so the base is ready to vote. We have an energized base - thanks Dean - but now that we're energized we can work for any democrat. Will the Dean movement just disappear without Dean? Of course the genie isn't going back in the bottle - witness the activity of us Deaners for Clark. Good work Dean, now pass the torch! (And take charge of Congress, the Senate, the DNC, be our Karl Rove, there are a million things to do!)

The other major difference with this election is that a realigning landslide is just in our reach, waiting for us to grab it. Independents and Republicans, Southerners, the military vote, all are willing to leave the republicans, if we could only nominate someone that they like.

It's not Dean's fault that they don't like him, but nobody said the life of politics is fair. Dean wants to be voted for by the guys who still have confederate flags on their pickups. But Clark actually will be. It's part background, part image. He can explain liberal and even leftist ideas without putting people's defenses up. The fact that many Dean supporters believe he's a republican is proof that this image works - although only TOO well! (That's another major rule of war: don't believe your own propaganda!)

And remember that for every republican who switches sides, there's a bunch more who might stay home, or vote without donating or contributing, or who gets disgusted with seeing attack ads attacking someone he doesn't hate.

Dean is an energizing guy. Having him in the primaries is good, because he can energize our base. But in the general election, all he'll be able to energize is the GOP base.

Clark, meanwhile, is uniting and energizing a broad, re-aligning coalition the likes of Roosevelt, and doing it at a far faster rate. Once done, he can turn these "Clark democrats" into PERMANENT democrats, winning the Senate, and winning congress in 2006.

Dean would have been great in 2000. But it's not 2000 any more. But it's 2004, and the historic Clark landslide is in our reach!

In my -- far less thorough -- review of these polls, I came to the same conclusions.

It's shocking that so many insiders have seemingly ingnored this information, and cast Saddam's capture as a garauntee for Bush's re-election.

Ian: Yes, watching and reading the mainstream media is just a bizarre, out-of-body experience for me. Reality, at least the reality that I'm familiar with from facts 'n' stuff, just isn't reflected there at all. It's all fun-house mirrors, pundits blathering on and reflecting each others' fantasies about the world.

Tragic that most of those fantasies are aligned squarely with the conservatives' world view.

Did anybody see the CBS/NY Times poll? They had numbers just prior to Sunday, and just after, and they're trumpeting "a seven-point swing" (as if that were on a par with post-September 11). The amazing thing is, the jump was from 45% approve to 52%. Not only is 52% pretty lame, I'd never seen a CBS poll (or anybody else's) as low as 45 (with a 49% disapprove, meaning 4% net negative). Bush thus avoided the worst numbers of his presidency by a day. I believe even this boost is a sugar-high, likely to wear off if the killing continues in Iraq. Which to me means all the media blather you've been hearing is, much as during Lewinsky, utterly disconnected from any but RNC reality.


It is interesting to see how fast both the American people, and the blogsphere are getting back to underlying fundamentals here: Saddam has been a non factor since his overthrow, and it is clearly he was barely hanging on to power even before it. The capture, in some sense, underlines how we did not have a plan to deal with the results of the collapse of Iraq. Ruy's article points out the mood in the country hasn't shifted much since the capture, and that is matched by the facts ont he ground - Americans continue to be killed in actions in Iraq, even though the lowered temperatures puts the military balance farther back in their favor.

Liebermans's comments as of late have been despicable. "Spider hole", indeed. Bush/Liberman in 2004.

Dean's mistake, if it was one, was to simply state the truth. Capturing Saddam has essentially nothing to do with the security of the American people.

If Lieberman wants to lay out a case, so be it, but snide remarks about Dean is not laying out a case.

Thanks, Dem candidates for helping destroy whatever chance we had to take back the White House. I think Clark is one notable exception. Dean/Clark in 2004.

The latest Gallup poll weighs in with still ANOTHER anomalous bounce!

Really, what are the odds of this many big bounces no one else detects?

I've never been inclined to conspiracy theories about how polls are taken, when it's a well known widely respected national organization behind it.

I'm beginning to reconsider.

Actually, the CBS/NYT poll showed Bush going from 51% to 58%. The 45 to 52 numbers were not his overall approval ratings. I can't remember what they were for.