Articles and Analysis


Instant Reaction to the "Surge" Speech

Topics: Instant Reaction Polls , Iraq

Two survey organizations - CBS News and ABC/Washington Post - went into the field immediately after the Presidential address last night to gauge reactions among those at home. Both polls appear to show the same polarization in reaction: Republicans are supportive of the President's "troop surge" plan, most independents and virtually all Democrats are opposed. As always, we need to be cautious about instant reaction polls. Opinions may change in response to the news coverage over the next few days, but despite some differences that may seem divergent when taken at face value, both surveys paint roughly the same general picture.

The two polls differed in terms of their methodology. CBS News conducted a "panel-back" survey. They attempted to interview respondents from a larger survey conducted last week for a second time. They were able to contact and interview 458 adults and (I assume) weighted the results as they usually do to match national US Census estimates for demographic characteristics like gender, age and race. The ABC/Post survey involved a fresh new random sample of 502 adults, all contacted for the first time immediately after the speech.

The biggest challenge of fielding this sort of "instant reaction" poll following a presidential address is that the president's fans are more likely to tune in than other Americans. Did that happen in this case? The evidence is mixed. The two polls produced estimates of the audience size that differed, but not by much (31% on the CBS poll and 42% on the ABC/Post poll).** However, the Post's summary notes that "the President's supporters were disproportionately represented among the audience," while CBS found few differences between speech-watchers and other Americans. According to the CBS release, "Democrats, Republicans and Independents were about equally likely to have watched."

That difference probably explains the divergent results among speech watchers. According to the Post, "47 percent [of speech watchers] support sending more troops, while 51 percent oppose." On the CBS poll, 33% of speech watchers favor more troops and 59% oppose."

When you look at all adults, however, the polls show more similar results. Both polls show similarly strong polarization, with most Republicans favoring a troop surge, and most independents and Democrats in opposition (thanks to Jon Cohen at the Washington Post for providing full cross-tab results from their survey in the table below).


I am reading between the lines a bit, but the data above suggest that general assessments of President Bush- both among speech watchers and other Americans - are driving judgments about the troop surge. Since the majority of Americans are skeptical of Bush, they are also skeptical of this new proposal. I would guess that if we tabulated these results by the Bush job rating, we would see an even greater polarization: Those who approve of Bush's job performance overwhelmingly in favor, while those who disapprove are overwhelmingly opposed.

**My calculation suggests that the difference in the estimate of the audience size is statistically significant, but keep in mind that the other differences in methodology (a "panel back" survey vs. a fresh random sample) may well explain that difference.

Also keep in mind that on a one-night survey of this sort, the pollsters must abandon the usual "call back" procedures designed to interview those who are harder to contact. In this case, the challenge is especially acute in the Eastern time zones, where the pollsters did all of their dialing between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m. So it is likely that both samples - even after demographic weighting - are skewed a bit toward those more likely to stay at home. Does this methodological compromise skew the substantive results? Pollsters will debate that point, but one reassuring bit of evidence is that the CBS post-speech sample of adults had roughly the same party identification result (35% Democrat, 29% Republican) as the larger pre-speech debate sample (35% Democrat, 27% Republican).


Jon Rasmussen:

More of the same from a leader who doesn't lead and doesn't listen to his own generals. It is too late and too little to win or even to save face. The country was misled either by design or lack of sufficient hard facts. Personally if a hard fact jumped on George I don't even think he would recognize its import. To me he is an arrogant bullhead that is going to cost this nation billions in money and many thousands of lives. We are so very close to WW3. George should have read more History about the perpetual conflict of East vs. West in culture and religion. The Crusades would have been a good starting point. Another thing about George is he claims we are safer. We are weaker, we are more hated and we have created a generation of terrorists by the killing of their families.
Mexico feeds drugs across the border unceasingly and very likely terrorists have come across that border in great numbers. We know they wait for the right moment and take advantage of surprise. How can any legislator or president think we are safer.
The man discusts me.



What's disgusting is someone who doesn't know how to spell disgusting acting self-righteous and superior and allowing his hatred of Bush to dictate his ill-informed political stance. I, along with many other non-ideologues, am sick of the Bush-bashers. Can anyone offer a real solution to the situation in Iraq besides the solution of "exactly the opposite of whatever Bush says"? Partisan politics has hijacked American foreign policy and nobody seems to notice or care.


After seeing Chuck Hagel on Charlie Rose tonight talknig about a fairly real risk that we may end up skirmishing into Iran and/or Syria (a la Cambodia) as a pretext to a larget attack on those disliked nations, I'd like to see polling on how many Americans support Mr. Bush leading us into a milti-nation regional war.

It's not just Hagel BTW. Zbigniew Brzezinski was today warning of the Iran/Syria subtext in Bush's speech too.

I really don't think the general public would favor such an huge and dangerous acceleration.


Laura, There are bigger issues than poor spelling. Bush has invited bashing by being so stubborn, ignoring the wishes of the people as expressed in the last election, by ignoring the recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and by ignoring the Baker Study Group's recommendation to take a diplomatic initiative with Syria and Iran. Instead what we get is escalation and confrontation with Iran and Syria. During his famous listening tour, who was he listening to anyway? The man is a danger to the country. The Lauras of the world need to remove their heads from the dark hole where it is stuck so they can see the light.



"Trust me!" That's what Bush uses as his persuasive device for nearly every argument. Those who trust him, Republicans who believe more in party label than in fact, would follow Bush over a cliff, waving flags and denouncing opponents until they hit the rocks below.

Democrats naturally have no reason to support him. Self-styled Independents, who have no partisan dog in the fight, have turned against Bush 2-1. This was the result on Election Night 2006, and the dynamics are the same.

Unless you are a partisan Republican, you are not going support Bush, who seems to say "Who are you going to trust: me or your own eyes?"


marc deveraux:

If the bush follows thru on this troop "surge" does this make the u.s. troops insurgents?



Here's a scary exercise:
look up Bush's speeches from 2
2005 and 2006. They are
almost identical in empty
rhetoric and arrogant self
confidence. He is right, and
the American people are wrong.
Today's speech added nothing,
but it sure kept him from
facing health care issues or
problems of his cronies. How
can he consider himself moral
when he lets his buddies
break the law and then gets
them out of jail? If this is
truly a country of the people,
by and for the people, then
let them speak. Get this man
out of office by impeachment
before he turns all the world
against us, then starts
World War III, for which we
will have no allies because
we are so hated and feared
for our terrible warlike


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