An amazing study on the hazards of watching Fox News compared the level of knowledge of people by the news channels they watched. The conclusions (hardly surprising) was that people who watched Fox News tended to have more misconceptions about the Iraqi conflict than those who watched PBS or NPR. The implications are a little broader than that though.
It found a high correlation between respondents with the most misperceptions and their support for the decision to go to war. Only 23 percent of those who held none of the three misperceptions supported the war, while 53 percent who held one misperception did so. Of those who believe that both WMDs and evidence of al-Qaeda ties have been found in Iraq and that world opinion backed the United States, a whopping 86 percent said they supported war. More specifically, among those who believed that Washington had found clear evidence of close ties between Hussein and al-Qaeda, two-thirds held the view that going to war was the best thing to do. Only 29 percent felt that way among those who did not believe that such evidence had been found.
The average frequency of misperceptions among respondents who planned to vote for Bush was 45 percent, while among those who plan to vote for a hypothetical Democrat candidate, the frequency averaged only 17 percent. Asked “Has the US found clear evidence Saddam Hussein was working closely with al Qaeda?” 68 percent of Bush supporters replied affirmatively. By contrast, two of every three Democrat-backers said no.
While I think the conclusions of this study are generally valid, this is a case where you need to look at the exact wording of the questions and the order in which they are presented. In other words, you have to distinguish between beliefs and understanding of facts. Even though pro-war people might understand that there was no hard evidence linking Al Queda to Saddam, perhaps it was their belief that this was the case based on the facts available at the time. How do you form beliefs? By listening to people you trust, and assigning credibility to what they say. And if you believe that Bush is generally a honest god-fearing president and that Bush believes that there is a WMD/Al Queda/Saddam link, then saying that Saddam possesses WMD becomes something you agree with. It has to do with presumption. When you are preying on people’s fear, the presumption first of all is to be safe. The question turns from “how can be sure that Saddam has WMD?” to “how can we be sure that he doesn’t?”