Thursday, October 21, 2004

Bush Voters Really, Truly In Denial

Opposing sides in hard-fought election campaigns tend to demonize each other. "Those people" can't possibly be so wrong on important issues, goes the thinking, unless they are ignorant, deluded or just plain stupid. (Or evil, but we'll leave Karl Rovevich Rovesputin out of this discussion.) Then some wise talking head will come along and suggest that no, it's unfair to conclude that one side is dumber than the other, and that sometimes the problem is that people simply disagree about fundamental issues.

Well, not this time. All the Democrats and apostate Republicans who wonder how any sane person could support a president with such a self-evidently dismal record of failure and ineptitude now have good, hard data to support their feeling that something is wrong with the Bushies. A stunning report from the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) proves that when it comes to the most important issue in the 2004 presidential race -- the war in Iraq -- Bush supporters are just plain wrong about the facts.

I won't go into detail on the statistics generated by PIPA's survey of voters, but the bottom line is unambiguous. Here are some of PIPA's own statements of its conclusions:
Bush Supporters Still Believe Iraq Had WMD or Major Program, Supported al Qaeda
[Bush supporters] Agree US Should Not Have Gone to War if No WMD or Support for al Qaeda
Bush Supporters Misperceive World Public as Not Opposed to Iraq War, Favoring Bush Reelection

It doesn't matter how many exhaustive reports are issued showing that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and no capability of making them; a majority of Bush supporters want to believe in the myth of WMD, so they do. It doesn't matter that there is zero evidence of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda -- that the absurdity of suggesting a link is so obvious that Dick Cheney felt compelled to lie during the VP debate and deny he'd ever claimed a link existed -- a majority of Bush supporters want to believe in the link, so they do.

PIPA apparently leans toward denial, rather than ignorance or stupidity, as the most likely explanation for the Bushies' persistence in holding false beliefs. Steven Kull, the director of PIPA, put it this way: "To support the president and to accept that he took the US to war based on mistaken assumptions likely creates substantial cognitive dissonance, and leads Bush supporters to suppress awareness of unsettling information about prewar Iraq."

This is not an election in which both sides have equally clear-eyed views of the facts, and just disagree on priorities or values. One side is mostly wrong about what it thinks it sees.

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