Nobody cares about Iraq

Mike noted last night that Republican voters named Iraq as only their third-most important issue in the Super Tuesday exit polls, after the economy and immigration. In fact, the general public’s interest in Iraq has been on the wane for over a year now: That’s according to the Pew Research Center for the People and ...

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596640_iraqpew_05.gif

Mike noted last night that Republican voters named Iraq as only their third-most important issue in the Super Tuesday exit polls, after the economy and immigration. In fact, the general public's interest in Iraq has been on the wane for over a year now:

That's according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which tracks the public's interest in the dominant news stories each week. Here's how Pew describes what's happening:

Attentiveness to the Iraq war relative to other top news stories has fallen dramatically in recent months. Throughout much of 2007, the war was consistently the most closely followed news story each week. It has not held that position since early October as the 2008 presidential campaign has become the dominant news story both in terms of interest and coverage. In recent weeks, media coverage of the war has been minimal. Last week [Jan. 21-27] the national media devoted only 2% of its overall coverage to the war.

Mike noted last night that Republican voters named Iraq as only their third-most important issue in the Super Tuesday exit polls, after the economy and immigration. In fact, the general public’s interest in Iraq has been on the wane for over a year now:

That’s according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which tracks the public’s interest in the dominant news stories each week. Here’s how Pew describes what’s happening:

Attentiveness to the Iraq war relative to other top news stories has fallen dramatically in recent months. Throughout much of 2007, the war was consistently the most closely followed news story each week. It has not held that position since early October as the 2008 presidential campaign has become the dominant news story both in terms of interest and coverage. In recent weeks, media coverage of the war has been minimal. Last week [Jan. 21-27] the national media devoted only 2% of its overall coverage to the war.

In other words, coverage of the 2008 race has made Iraq less of a topic in the campaign itself. But there are some other things going on. U.S. troops are no longer dying in ever-greater numbers, and neither are Iraqis. And if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead.

To the extent that Iraq does play a role in the campaign, it helps John McCain—for now. Former Bush speechwriter and pundit Michael Gerson says the surge is the reason for McCain’s comeback during the GOP primaries. (There’s some truth to that argument, though he is wrong to downplay immigration as a factor in McCain’s struggles over the summer, and he doesn’t mention how Rudy Giuliani’s meltdown sent moderate voters to McCain.) But McCain won’t be able to ride the surge to victory in the general election, Gerson cautions:

[T]hose who know McCain report a general lack of interest in domestic policy compared with his engagement in foreign affairs. “It’s sometimes unfairly argued that Bush is intellectually uncurious,” says one former member of Congress, “but on domestic issues that is really true of McCain.”

McCain’s foresight on Iraq has carried him far. But eventually he will need to engage Democrats on issues from health care to education to poverty. And being right on the war will not be enough.

Ironically, the better the United States does in the war, the more it actually hurts McCain in the long run. Why? For two reasons. The first is that most voters have made up their minds about Iraq: They want to leave, recent success be damned. That sentiment will only increase as the economy sours and calls grow to spend that $10 billion a month at home. Second, with Iraq receding into the background, the race becomes much more focused on domestic issues, where polls consistently show Democrats have an advantage. If Iraq goes south again, as some people fear it might, then it will be in the news again and McCain will benefit. But that’s a slender reed on which to hang his hopes. He’d better come up with something different.

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