May 14, 1999

Questioning Kosovo

Also: Early Issue Advertising

Polls on the use of ground troops in Kosovo remain hard to read, because small differences in question wording lead to significant differences in results. Majorities support the use of ground forces in polls that ask about deployment “to end the conflict in Kosovo” (ABC). When this phrase is not in the question, national surveys find majority opposition (Gallup, NBC/Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times).

A split sample experiment by the Pew Research Center tested the impact of this phrase. Half of an April 15-18, 1999 sample divided evenly (47% favor and 48% opposed) when asked about sending ground troops “if air strikes do not stop Serbian attacks there.” When the other half sample was asked the same question reinforced with the phrase “to try to end the conflict,” it found a 51%-42% majority favoring the proposal.

Differences are even more dramatic when the public is asked about the use of ground troops as “peacekeepers,” rather than peace makers. A Los Angeles Times poll found 68% of the public favoring the use of ground troops once peace is achieved.

When Americans are asked about the ongoing air campaign — a real rather than hypothetical issue — there is generally majority support, with some growth in support during the first few weeks of the air campaign. Majorities have consistently supported the air strikes, compared to the 29% to 56% variation in support for ground troops.

Early Ads and The Clinton Comeback

Issue advertising that began 17 months before the 1996 presidential election is said to have revolutionized modern campaigning. But the ads did not upend the 1996 contest. An analysis of presidential approval ratings before and after the ad campaign in targeted and non-targeted states reveals little evidence that the ads had much impact on public opinion.

According to news accounts of the 1996 presidential campaign, the Clinton campaign committee and the Democratic National Committee funded an early television advertising campaign designed to promote the Democratic legislative agenda and enhance President Clinton’s reelection prospects. The issue advertising began in late June 1995 and continued up to Election Day in 1996.(1) The ads were targeted in states considered key in the 1996 presidential campaign.(2)

During the year prior to the issue advertising, public approval of Clinton in both targeted and non-targeted states averaged 44%. In the year following the start of the issue advertising, Clinton’s job approval was slightly higher in targeted states, with an average of 52% compared to 48% in non-targeted states — a four percentage point improvement with the issue advertising.

The trend toward higher job approval in targeted states, however, was evident prior to the start of the advertising — by four points in April 1995 and five points in June 1995. Moreover, in polls conducted during the ad campaign, the president’s job approval rating increased by 10 percentage points in targeted states (from 46% to 56%) and 11 percentage points in non-targeted states (40% to 51%).

Endnotes

1. John King, Associated Press, June 23, 1995; Dick Morris, The Guardian, January 15, 1997

2. Annenberg Public Policy Center, Issue Advocacy Advertising During the 1996 Campaign. Heavily targeted states include Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.