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Bush Supporters and their Denial of Reality

"The refusal to allow criticism or anything different from their view of the world is alarming. As the survey shows, people can stand behind Bush without having to deny that arguments justifying the war have proven false.."

According to a recent poll, the majority of Bush followers still believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and supported Al-Qaida

By Florian Roetzer

[This article originally published in the German-English cyber-journal Telepolis is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.telepolis.de/deutsch/inhalt/co/186371.html.]

Polls before US presidential elections seem like sand at the ocean. Like weather on the weather report, little appears that is reliable about the mood in the country. Are viewpoints liquefied and adjusted to new conditions? Or are opinions hardening and only becoming more resistant to what is happening around people? On one side, it may be comforting that the polls published in panic succession will hardly influence voters. On the other side, it is very alarming when decided voters are ready to fade out reality and not consider information.

In late October 2004, a survey (2) was published by the Program on International Policy Attitudes [PIPA [1)] that is really frightening. Adults selected by chance according to telephone numbers were interviewed in September and October by the polling institute Knowledge Networks. If they agreed to the survey, they received an Internet access and a personal ID from Knowledge Networks (3). The questions then arrived by email.

This is an interesting method. The results of the last survey titled the "different realities of the followers of Bush and Kerry" are even more interesting. These realities are very different. 72 percent of Bush supporters are convinced that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (47%) or planned a massive program to develop these weapons (25%). Astonishingly 26 percent of Kerry supporters had this opinion since the information before the war and officially confirmed by the American weapons inspectors Kay and Duelfer in their reports was resisted. Because of the pressure, even the members of the Bush administration would have to change their argument and retreat to the position that Hussein was only waiting to start a program for developing weapons of mass destruction.

Thus in whatever world the Bush supporters and parts of Kerry supporters live, they ultimately accepted the media's assertion of the existence of weapons of mass destruction but didn't consider media information when it was not sufficiently interesting or didn't fit in their world-view trouble-free. 56 percent of Bush followers start from the notion that most experts assumed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. 57 percent think that Duelfer concluded that Iraq had at least a program to develop weapons. The conclusion of this report should still be relatively fresh in their minds. Kerry supporters have an opposite view.

This is also true for the Bush administration's other argument justifying war. Three-fourths of Bush supporters are convinced that Iraq supported Al-Qaida. 60 percent believe unequivocal evidence proves this. 20 percent even believe Hussein was directly involved with the attacks on 9/11. 55 percent say that was the 9/11 commission's conclusion. The commission said there was no evidence.

Kerry- and Bush supporters only agree that the Bush administration said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, supported Al-Qaida and was directly involved in the attacks of 9/11. The Bush followers do not start from the fact that the Bush administration either had false information or lied.

US president Bush told the press on October 7 regarding the final report of the American weapons inspector Duelfer:

"Chief weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, has now issued a comprehensive report that confirms the earlier conclusion of David Kay that Iraq did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there. The Duelfer report also raises important new information about Saddam Hussein's defiance of the world and his intent and capability to develop weapons. The Duelfer report showed that Saddam was systematically gaming the system, using the U.N. oil-for-food program to try to influence countries and companies in an effort to undermine sanctions. He was doing so with the intent of restarting his weapons program, once the world looked away. Based on all the information we have today, I believe we were right to take action, and America is safer today with Saddam Hussein in prison."

Holding to an opinion despite opposite and generally known information on the Iraq war is interesting. 85% of Bush followers say the decision to wage war on Iraq was right. 58 percent said No to the question whether the US should have marched to war if the secret services would have said that Iraq neither had weapons of mass destruction nor supported Al-Qaida. The majority of Bush supporters conclude that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Iraq supported Al-Qaida because the Bush administration declared war. These Bush supporters are marked by an authoritarian character and mold their reality by fading out conditions of rule.

92 percent of Kerry supporters insist that ear should not have been waged if the secret services supplied different information. Because Kerry supporters think Irag had neither weapons of mass destruction nor relations to Al-Qaida, 90 percent believe the decision was wrong. 83 percent think - very realistically - that Bush would have begun the war for other reasons if the secret services had not claimed the existence of weapons of mass destruction. Steven Kull, director of PIPA, interprets the position of Bush followers:

"Supporting the president and accepting that the US wages war on account of false assumptions produces an intense cognitive dissonance and leads Bush followers to repress disturbing information about Iraq before the war."

Kull points out that this denial of reality also occurs in other areas. In other surveys, 57 percent of Bush supporters believe the majority of the people in the world would welcome the reelection of Bush. In a survey in 35 countries, a PIPA poll revealed that the decision of the majority for Bush only occurred in three countries. Bush supporters also hold erroneous opinions in other things. A majority believes Bush supports the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto-protocol and urges environmental protection and labor law standards in trade agreements. Kerry supporters who naturally see the Bush administration with critical eyes judge this more realistically. Perceptions of democrats and Kerry are not analyzed. Similar blind spots could appear if their perceptions were examined.

Kull has another explanation for the denial of reality, knowledge resistance or the information blackout of many Bush supporters. The trauma of 9/11 allows an unconditional loyalty to Bush and an idealized picture of him to arise. Bush even encourages the suppression of reality for his supporters by his refusal to admit errors when earlier positions become untenable. He distances himself from earlier positions while still holding his decisions to be right. What is primarily a power strategy for Bush and his spin-doctors is a fatal self-incapacitation for many of his supporters.

However this may be explained, the refusal to allow criticism and anything differing from their view of the world is alarming. As the survey shows, people can stand behind Bush without having to deny that arguments justifying the war have proven to be false and without assuming that the Bush administration consciously pulled the wool over the eyes of the public.

That the opposite seems to be happening amid the information society or the knowledge society in which people in western countries can freely become informed from different sources and form their own opinion is frightening. Whoever does not adapt or adjust is not locked up. This is bad news about the state of American politics, the media society and democracy.

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