Thanks to the tip from commenter DEK, we find confirmation of what many of us suspect all the time: Bush supporters, for whatever reason, are extremely misinformed about what their candidate stands for and are ignorant about the world around them. A study released just today by the University of Marylandís Program on International Policy Attitudes concludes that Bush supporters falsely ascribe to Bush positions that are opposite of what he stands for, and have a view of Iraq WMDs and Al Qaeda that reflect gross ignorance of reality. These findings are similar to an earlier study, which found that of all the major networks, those who got their news from Fox News were the most misinformed about 9/11, and the reality and rationale for the Iraq war.
Even after the final report of Charles Duelfer to Congress saying that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program, 72% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for developing them (25%). Fifty-six percent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57% also assume, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program. Kerry supporters hold opposite beliefs on all these points.
Similarly, 75% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, and 63% believe that clear evidence of this support has been found. Sixty percent of Bush supporters assume that this is also the conclusion of most experts, and 55% assume, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission. Here again, large majorities of Kerry supporters have exactly opposite perceptions.
Despite an abundance of evidence--including polls conducted by Gallup International in 38 countries, and more recently by a consortium of leading newspapers in 10 major countries--only 31% of Bush supporters recognize that the majority of people in the world oppose the US having gone to war with Iraq. Forty-two percent assume that views are evenly divided, and 26% assume that the majority approves. Among Kerry supporters, 74% assume that the majority of the world is opposed.
Similarly, 57% of Bush supporters assume that the majority of people in the world would favor Bush's reelection; 33% assumed that views are evenly divided and only 9% assumed that Kerry would be preferred. A recent poll by GlobeScan and PIPA of 35 of the major countries around the world found that in 30, a majority or plurality favored Kerry, while in just 3 Bush was favored. On average, Kerry was preferred more than two to one.
Bush supporters also have numerous misperceptions about Bush's international policy positions. Majorities incorrectly assume that Bush supports multilateral approaches to various international issues--the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (69%), the treaty banning land mines (72%)--and for addressing the problem of global warming: 51% incorrectly assume he favors US participation in the Kyoto treaty. After he denounced the International Criminal Court in the debates, the perception that he favored it dropped from 66%, but still 53% continue to believe that he favors it. An overwhelming 74% incorrectly assumes that he favors including labor and environmental standards in trade agreements. In all these cases, majorities of Bush supporters favor the positions they impute to Bush. Kerry supporters are much more accurate in their perceptions of his positions on these issues.
Asked whether the US should have gone to war with Iraq if US intelligence had concluded that Iraq was not making WMD or providing support to al Qaeda, 58% of Bush supporters said the US should not have, and 61% assume that in this case the President would not have. Kull continues, "To support the president and to accept that he took the US to war based on mistaken assumptions likely creates substantial cognitive dissonance, and leads Bush supporters to suppress awareness of unsettling information about prewar Iraq."
Why do Bush supporters possess beliefs about Bush and his positions that arenít supported by the facts? PIPA opines what others have been speculating for a while: gross and widespread cognitive dissonance. In looking at PIPA's conclusions, it appears to me that Bush supporters are so overwhelmed by hero-worship towards Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 and so well manipulated by the White House and Fox News that they cannot conceive that their hero could hold positions at odds with their own.
"The roots of the Bush supporters' resistance to information," according to Steven Kull, "very likely lie in the traumatic experience of 9/11 and equally in the near pitch-perfect leadership that President Bush showed in its immediate wake. This appears to have created a powerful bond between Bush and his supporters--and an idealized image of the President that makes it difficult for his supporters to imagine that he could have made incorrect judgments before the war, that world public opinion could be critical of his policies or that the President could hold foreign policy positions that are at odds with his supporters."
Gross cognitive dissonance. A mass Stepford complex among Bushís masses. Legions of people who get their news from a discredited source, who are unable to confront the fact that they are being used and manipulated (see Thomas Frank's "What's The Matter With Kansas?"). These same people ascribe mainstream positions and beliefs to their leader contrary to the facts almost as if they are in denial that they fully support a man who is an extremist. As time goes on, their faith in and support of that leader grow so hardened, again stoked by a reinforcing and assistive media, that many of the masses begin imitating the characteristics of their leader, in that they believe they are infallible, more righteous than their peers, and are unwilling to admit error or facts contrary to their beliefs.
In other words, a cult.