December 18, 2007

The Portrait from Iraq - How the Press Has Covered Events on the Ground

Changing Public Opinion

To what extent has public opinion risen or fallen with changes in the news? At least since June, there seems to be a connection between events on the ground, press coverage and public opinion.

According to survey data from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, there has been a steady increase since June in positive views about how the U.S. military effort is going. In June, only a third (34%) of the public believed the U.S. military effort was going “very” or “fairly well.” But since July, there has been a steady up-tick in that number, reaching roughly half the public (48%) in November.

This change in public opinion coincides closely with the decrease in press coverage of daily violence. As reported above, stories about daily incidents of violence dropped off in July, and remained low through October.

The public opinion also mirrors the nuances in the situation reflected in the reporting. First, the public appears to have taken note of the decline in daily casualties. The percentage of those saying the U.S is making progress in reducing the number of civilian casualties more than doubled from June to November (21% versus 43% in November). The public also sees more progress in defeating the insurgents, rising from 32% in June to 43% in November.

And just as the Project’s content research finds other messages of instability and chaos increasing as daily violence decreased, the public, too, has maintained bleak views about other areas of the war. There has been no real increase in those who sense progress in establishing democracy there (39% in June and September and 43% in November). And, when asked the broadest question about whether the U.S. effort in Iraq will ultimately succeed, the public has remained split with roughly half saying it will succeed and half expecting failure.