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Going to War in Iraq

When Citizens and the Press Matter

Conventional wisdom holds that the Bush administration was able to convince the American public to support a war in Iraq on the basis of specious claims and a shifting rationale because Democratic politicians decided not to voice opposition and the press simply failed to do its job.
            Drawing on the most comprehensive survey of public reactions to the war, Stanley Feldman, Leonie Huddy, and George E. Marcus revisit this critical period and come back with a very different story. Polling data from that critical period shows that the Bush administration’s carefully orchestrated campaign not only failed to raise Republican support for the war but, surprisingly, led Democrats and political independents to increasingly oppose the war at odds with most prominent Democratic leaders. More importantly, the research shows that what constitutes the news matters. People who read the newspaper were more likely to reject the claims coming out of Washington because they were exposed to the sort of high-quality investigative journalism still being written at traditional newspapers. That was not the case for those who got their news from television. Making a case for the crucial role of a press that lives up to the best norms and practices of print journalism, the book lays bare what is at stake for the functioning of democracy—especially in times of crisis—as newspapers increasingly become an endangered species.

See an online appendix for the book.

248 pages | 70 figures, 12 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Media Studies

Political Science: American Government and Politics, Political Behavior and Public Opinion


"A fascinating, detailed, and sometimes surprising scholarly analysis of how Americans, starting in 2001, came to consent to the prospect of waging war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  Feldman, Huddy, and Marcus not only challenge key aspects of the conventional wisdom about this historical pivot-point; they also offer a number of trenchant judgments that should help to guide Americans the next time they must face this kind of choice.”

Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America

“The most comprehensive investigation into how news coverage influenced American public opinion during the run up to the Iraq War, Going to War in Iraq presents a novel and well-written analysis that will make a lasting contribution to the scholarly literatures on American politics, international relations, public opinion, and political communication.”

Scott L. Althaus, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“Investigative journalism is important for democracy and imperative in times of war. Going to War in Iraq engages key issues regarding leadership and public opinion and reflects in a crucial way on the importance of a free press based on the best norms and activity of print journalism in the United States.”

Robert Y. Shapiro, Columbia University, coauthor of Selling Fear: Counterterrorism, the Media, and Public Opinion

“Going to War in Iraq examines media coverage and public opinion in the run-up to the Iraq War. . . . The book will give readers much to think about. . . . The authors offer a creative, data-driven approach to a very challenging subject.”

New England Journal of Political Science

“This important book is a sophisticated account by prominent scholars that should become a seminal work in the field. . . . Highly recommended.”


Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments

Chapter 1.   The Public Responds to a Possible War in Iraq: Confronting Two Conundrum
Chapter 2.   The Skeptical Citizen: Public Uneasiness about Waging War in Iraq
Chapter 3.   Political Leaders Set the Stage for War
Chapter 4.   The News Media Reacts: Channeling and Challenging the Administration
Chapter 5.   The Deliberative Citizen Emerges: Democratic and Independent Opposition to the Iraq War
Chapter 6.   Newspaper Content or Newspaper Readers?
Chapter 7.   Citizen Competence Reconsidered



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