BooMan’s front page story as well as two diaries on DKos today point out this Washington Post article:  Bush Words Reflect Public Opinion Strategy .

In shaping their message, White House officials have drawn on the work of Duke University political scientists Peter D. Feaver and Christopher F. Gelpi, who have examined public opinion on Iraq and previous conflicts. Feaver, who served on the staff of the National Security Council in the early years of the Clinton administration, joined the Bush NSC staff about a month ago as special adviser for strategic planning and institutional reform.

Feaver and Gelpi categorized people on the basis of two questions: “Was the decision to go to war in Iraq right or wrong?” and “Can the United States ultimately win?” In their analysis, the key issue now is how people feel about the prospect of winning. They concluded that many of the questions asked in public opinion polls — such as whether going to war was worth it and whether casualties are at an unacceptable level — are far less relevant now in gauging public tolerance or patience for the road ahead than the question of whether people believe the war is winnable.

I think this is an opportunity to reveal a bit more of what’s really going on with “the man behind the curtain”… Some heavy stuff to digest reading the academic papers published by Gelpi and Feaver, such as “Casualty Sensitivity and the War in Iraq” (PDF) :

Our  model predicts that 75% of respondents who “somewhat disapprove” of Bush’s decision  to attack will nonetheless tolerate at least 1,500 US military deaths if they believe that  victory is very likely. This implies that the President can garner the support from a  majority of those who are moderately skeptical of the war’s justification by persuading  them that victory is very likely.

There is a page of links to papers by Gelpi and Feaver.  I’ve been browsing the “Casualty Sensitivity and the War in Iraq” (PDF) article from 2004, and it has some interesting points that might be useful to help understand the war PR campaign. For instance:

The Iraq case suggests that under the right conditions, the public will continue to support military operations even when they come with a relatively high human cost.

Our core argument is that the public’s tolerance for the human costs of war is primarily shaped by the intersection of two crucial attitudes: beliefs about the rightness or wrongness of the war in the first place, and beliefs about a war’s likely success. Both attitudes are important, and the impact of each depends upon the other. However, we find that beliefs about the likelihood of success matter most in determining the public’s willingness to tolerate American military deaths in combat.


These two attitudes can combine in four basic combinations. Respondents in the first category, which in this case might be considered the “Bush Base,” believe the war was right and that the United States will win. Those in the opposite category, which we would call “the Vietnam Syndrome” believe the war was wrong and the United States will lose. Obviously, we would expect the former group to have much greater casualty tolerance than the latter group. But respondents with intermediate attitudes – the “Noble Failure” view that the war was right but we will lose, and the “Pottery Barn — we broke it, we’ll fix it” view that war was wrong but we will win – pose more interesting theoretical questions that allow us to compare the relative importance of the two attitudes in shaping casualty tolerance.

We contend that expectations of success will matter more and thus the “Pottery Barn” respondent will express a greater tolerance than the “Noble Failure” respondent for the human costs of war.

Well, forewarned is forearmed … Hopefully this analysis can be useful for more than the pro-war PR it is currently being applied to.

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