June 2003


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Phil Gasper <[log in to unmask]>
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Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 9 Jun 2003 13:50:27 -0700
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Many Americans Unaware WMD Have Not Been Found

06/09/03: (PIPA) A striking finding in the new Program on
International Policy Attitudes (PIPA)   Knowledge Networks poll is
that many Americans are unaware that weapons of mass destruction have
not been found in Iraq. While 59% of those polled correctly said the
US has not found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, 41% said they
believed that the US has found such weapons (34%) or were unsure (7%).

Steven Kull, director of PIPA, comments: "For some Americans, their
desire to support the war may be leading them to screen out
information that weapons of mass destruction have not been found.
Given the intensive news coverage and high levels of public attention
to the topic, this level of misinformation suggests that some
Americans may be avoiding having an experience of cognitive

"To some extent this misperception can be attributed to repeated
headlines that there has been a promising lead in the effort to find
evidence of such weapons' headlines that are not counterbalanced by
prominent reporting that these leads have not been fruitful. But
there is also reason to believe that this misperception may be
unconsciously motivated, as the mistaken belief is substantially
greater among those who favored the war."

Among those who approved of the decision to go to war and were not
just supporting the president (53% of the sample), a majority of 52%
said the US has found weapons of mass destruction (48%) or did not
know (4%).

Among Republicans who said they follow international affairs very
closely -- and thus may also be more exposed to headlines reporting
promising leads -- an even larger percentage -- 55% --said weapons
have been found, with just 45% saying they have not.

Another widespread misperception is that Iraq actually used chemical
or biological weapons in the war. Twenty-two percent held this
misperception, with 9% being unsure, while 69% correctly said that
Iraq had not used such weapons. However, unlike the question of
whether weapons have been found, there is no greater tendency to hold
this belief among those who support the war, or are Republicans who
follow international affairs closely, than there is in the general

The desire to reduce cognitive dissonance may also be skewing some
Americans' memory of the government's rationale for going to war.
Asked, "Thinking back to when the US government was making the case
for going to war with Iraq, according to the government, what was the
most important reason for going to war with Iraq?" 60% said "the
evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction," and 19% said
"the evidence that Iraq was working with the terrorist group
al'Qaeda." But 20% said the most important reason was "the fact that
Saddam Hussein was an oppressive dictator." Asked for the second most
important reason, another 32% chose "the fact that Saddam Hussein was
an oppressive dictator," while weapons of mass destruction were
chosen by 24% and links to al'Qaeda by 42%.