Study: Misperceptions linked to support for war on Iraq

“A new study based on a series of seven US polls conducted from January through September of this year reveals that before and after the Iraq war, a majority of Americans have had significant misperceptions and these are highly related to support for the war in Iraq….

An in-depth analysis of a series of polls conducted June through September found 48% incorrectly believed that evidence of links between Iraq and al Qaeda have been found, 22% that weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, and 25% that world public opinion favored the US going to war with Iraq. Overall 60% had at least one of these three misperceptions.

Such misperceptions are highly related to support for the war. Among those with none of the misperceptions listed above, only 23% support the war. Among those with one of these misperceptions, 53% support the war, rising to 78% for those who have two of the misperceptions, and to 86% for those with all 3 misperceptions.


The frequency of Americans’ misperceptions varies significantly depending on their source of news. The percentage of respondents who had one or more of the three misperceptions listed above is shown below.

Variations in misperceptions according to news source cannot simply be explained as a result of differences in the demographics of each audience, because these variations can also be found when comparing the rate of misperceptions within demographic subgroups of each audience.

Another key perception—one that US intelligence agencies regard as unfounded—is that Iraq was directly involved in September 11. Before the war approximately one in five believed this and 13% even said they believed that they had seen conclusive evidence of it. Polled June through September, the percentage saying that Iraq was directly involved in 9/11 continued to be in the 20-25% range, while another 33-36% said they believed that Iraq gave al-Qaeda substantial support. [Note: An August Washington Post poll found that 69% thought it was at least “somewhat likely” that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11—a different question than the PIPA/KN question that asked respondents to come to a conclusion.]”

Quite frankly, these results really, really surprise me–not that misperceptions are related to support, but that this day and age there is any human being left anywhere in the world who actually believes any of them.

I think it’s sad and also revealing that there are still people left who believe that there was any link between Al Quaeda and Saddam Hussein–a misperception that is a stunning testament to the depths of the profound ignorance Americans have about the realities of the Middle East, as Saddam Hussein is a member of a Muslim sect deeply at odds with the sect to which Al Quaeda’s leaders belong, so much so that cooperation between the two is about as plausible as cooperation between Hamas and the Israeli Army–and even more sad that any human being with a brain can believe there is even the remotest possibility of a connection between Iraq and 9/11.

I can’t rightly get my head around the depth to which someone would have to be confused about the Middle East in order to believe any of these things, but it does offer insight into why, billions of dollars and thousands of lives and no weapons of mass destruction later, there are still those who believe that invading Iraq was actually a good idea.