Shift­ing sands of opin­ion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Don­ald Lam­bro

Ev­ery so of­ten, the Gallup Poll asks Amer­i­cans what they think should be the gov­ern­ment’s high­est pri­or­i­ties and to rate them in terms of im­por­tance.

The latest list of top-five con­cerns is a familiar one, but some of the open-ended re­sponses to Gallup’s poll­sters drew a few sur­prises and, in some cases, a more nu­anced view of thorny is­sues than ever get re­ported on nightly news shows.

Iraq, of course, is No. 1 on the list and has been since March 2004, when ca­su­al­ties mounted and sup­port for the war be­gan to weaken. Now “close to 6 in 10 Amer­i­cans say the Iraq war was a mis­take,” Gallup said.

A ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans is op­posed to the surge of troops at the heart of Pres­i­dent Bush’s plan to re­duce the vi­o­lence there and sta­bi­lize Bagh­dad. But, in­ter­est­ingly, they do not fa­vor en­act­ing any leg­is­la­tion that would deny fund­ing for the surge.

Mr. Bush’s ar­gu­ment dur­ing the leg­isla­tive show­down two weeks ago fo­cused on the threat of hold­ing up funds for the troops, and he won that po­lit­i­cal bat­tle hands down.

How­ever, a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans fa­vor a timetable for with­drawal, though we are still “sharply di­vided along party lines, with Democrats gen­er­ally sup­port­ive and Repub­li­cans strongly op­posed.” That pretty much mir­rors the vote in Congress that fell sig­nif­i­cantly short of the two-thirds needed to over­ride Mr. Bush’s veto of the Democrats’ pull­out bill.

Close be­hind Iraq is the is­sue of ter­ror­ism and na­tional se­cu­rity, the sub­text for the Iraq war. Peo­ple who do not sup­port the war may nev­er­the­less worry about the ef­fect of a full-scale with­drawal on our vul­ner­a­bil­ity to an­other ter­ror­ist at­tack at home.

No­tably, Mr. Bush and the Repub­li­cans fare much bet­ter on is­sues hav­ing to do with ter­ror­ism. While Demo­cratic lead­ers have been sharply and re­lent­lessly crit­i­cal of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s anti-ter­ror­ism meth­ods, claim­ing they have gone too far and threaten our civil lib­er­ties, a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans do not share those con­cerns.

“Over­all, Amer­i­cans show fairly broad tol­er­ance for strong anti-ter­ror­ism mea­sures. Rel­a­tively few Amer­i­cans think the Pa­triot Act ‘goes too far’ in com­pro­mis­ing civil lib­er­ties to fight ter­ror­ism; a ma­jor­ity ei­ther thinks it is about right or would like it to go fur­ther,” Gallup found.

Re­mem­ber the hue and cry from Democrats and the news me­dia about the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s tele­phone in­ter­cepts be­tween ter­ror­ists from abroad and their agents here at home? Well, Gallup said, “Amer­i­cans fa­vor the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to wire­tap tele­phone calls of sus­pected ter­ror­ists with­out a court or­der.”

The econ­omy is in third place and largely be­cause of higher gaso­line prices. Eco­nomic con­cerns eased in fall 2006 and early 2007 when gaso­line price dropped, but the con­cerns have risen again with $3-a-gal­lon gas prices for reg­u­lar.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, Amer­i­cans con­tinue to say they are “more pos­i­tive about their per­sonal fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tions,” some­thing that has prob­a­bly im­proved for mil­lions of work­ers who have seen their 401(k) re­tire­ment in­vest­ments sky­rocket dur­ing the latest bull-mar­ket rally on Wall Street. Still, about half of all Amer­i­cans say the econ­omy is get­ting worse. Their com­plaints point to a lack of money, too much debt and the higher costs of health care, col­lege, home­own­er­ship and gas prices.

En­ergy comes in fourth, and this is where Amer­i­cans ap­pear to be chang­ing their minds on what to do about the ris­ing costs of en­ergy and the grow­ing de­mand for it. Faced with the two ap­proaches to our en­ergy needs — con­ser­va­tion or in­creas­ing pro­duc­tion (fa­vored by the ad­min­is­tra­tion) — “Amer­i­cans have con­sis­tently cho­sen con­ser­va­tion by a wide mar­gin,” Gallup said.

But lately, as news of higher gas prices fol­lowed re­ports of fall­ing pro­duc­tion, “the per­cent­age choos­ing con­ser­va­tion has dropped in re­cent months.” At the same time, the per­cent­age fa­vor- ing the open­ing of the Arc­tic Na­tional Wildlife Refuge to oil ex­plo­ration and drilling (sought by the ad­min­is­tra­tion and op­posed by Democrats) “has in­creased over the past three years.”

Il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion is now fifth, down from No. 3 in Jan­uary. But Amer­i­cans have a more pos­i­tive at­ti­tude about the ben­e­fits of im­mi­gra­tion over­all.

“Amer­i­cans view the ef­fects of im­mi­gra­tion pos­i­tively and, while few want to see im­mi­gra­tion lev­els in­creased, slightly more want them kept at present lev­els rather than de­creased,” Gallup said. A “sub­stan­tial ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans fa­vor most ef­forts to stem the flow of il­le­gal im­mi­grants into this coun­try,” but about 6 in 10 also “fa­vor a plan that would al­low il­le­gal im­mi­grants the op­por­tu­nity to be­come U.S. cit­i­zens if they meet cer­tain re­quire­ments over a pe­riod of time.” About one-fourth “want to see all il­le­gal im­mi­grants de­ported back to their home coun­try.”

How­ever, Gallup also found Amer­i­cans were “some­what con­flicted on the is­sue — they be­lieve il­le­gal im­mi­grants are a drain on pub­lic taxes and ser­vices but also ac­knowl­edge the con­tri­bu­tion of il­le­gal im­mi­grants to the U.S. la­bor force.”

Don­ald Lam­bro, chief po­lit­i­cal correspondent of The Wash­ing­ton Times, is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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