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Many Americans Unaware WMD Have Not Been Found

41% said they believed that the US has found such weapons.

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 dissonance."

"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 population.

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%.

 


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