Nearly half the British population - 46% -claim to have changed their minds about the war with Iraq, new research by academics at Cardiff University has shown.
While 83% said they "supported allied forces" during the war, only 44% now say they support the decision to go to war with Iraq.
Researchers in the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, conducted a detailed nationwide survey of more than 1,000 adults, to explore the shifting nature of public opinion towards the war. Their study goes beyond recent polls to analyse not only who has changed their minds, but when and why.
"The support won during the Iraq War now looks increasingly like a pyrrhic victory, drowned out by questions about both the motives and the consequences of British involvement," said Professor Justin Lewis.
"The picture that emerges overall, however, is not promising for the government. Those now persuaded of the merits of the war are at least cancelled out by those who have withdrawn their support for it amidst the unanswered questions about how the war was justified. And most of those who didn’t support it beforehand, no longer feel bound by the need to support the troops, and have reverted to their sceptical stance."
What part has death of Dr David Kelly and the Hutton Inquiry played in all this? Most people – 89% - said they were aware of what the researchers described as "the Kelly affair", and nearly one in five (19%) said that it had influenced their opinion about the war. The Hutton Inquiry, in this sense, may well serving as a reminder for those who feel they have been misled.
The role of the media
Despite the recent row about Andrew Gilligan, the survey – conducted in the middle of the Hutton Inquiry - suggests that the BBC is still widely regarded as having been the most trusted source of information during the war. When asked "which media outlet gave the best, most informed coverage", 47% chose BBC news programmes - far and away the most popular choice, and more than 4 times the number choosing ITV News.
While a long way behind the BBC, Sky also did well– nominated as best source by 12.5% in the survey. The internet, on the other hand was nominated by only 0.2% suggesting that the contention of recent years about the internet replacing conventional news sources may be overblown.
Despite recent criticisms, the BBC is the most favoured source for both war supporters and opponents alike. Those who preferred Sky, on the other hand, are three times more likely to be war supporters than war sceptics. This suggests, according to Professor Lewis, that “if partisanship is creeping into broadcasting, it may be coming from Sky rather than the BBC.”
The study confounds those who argue that the media should be patriotic rather than impartial during wartime - 92% feel that "TV news should try to be objective and impartial when covering war", and only 5% disagree. This applies equally to both war supporters and opponents. And despite the partisanship of most newspapers, 88% think the Press should also be objective and impartial (with, once again, only 5% disagreeing).
The profile of supporters and sceptics
The survey also revealed some interesting differences emerge between those who now take pro-war and anti-war positions.
The members of the Iraq war research group are Professor Justin Lewis, Professor Terry Threadgold, Dr. Rod Brookes, Kisten Brander, Nick Mosdell and Sadie Clifford.
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