The story accompanying Thursday's release of the latest New York Times/CBS News poll was buried on page 14, perhaps becausethere's no real news:Obama led McCain by 3, 45%-42%, just within the margin of error, which is in line with other recent polling showing a tightening race.
More revealing was the poll's treatment of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: It contained not a single question about Iraq (the war was cited briefly, when respondents were asked to list favored priorities for their preferred candidate).
Instead, the Times asks about Afghanistan, where things are becoming more unstable.
Question 72: What is your impression of how the war in Afghanistan is going for the United States right now - very well, somewhat well, somewhat badly, or very badly?
The Times last asked that question in March 2003 - over five years ago, just as the war in Iraq was beginning. Now that Afghanistan is becoming more unstable, the question reappears. Again, there were no direct questions about Iraq this time.
Question 43: If John McCain were elected President, do you think he would generally continue George W. Bush's policies in Iraq, or not?
Question 73: Looking back, do you think the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, or should the U.S. have stayed out?
Question 74: How would you say things are going for the U.S. in its efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq? Would you say things are going very well, somewhat well, somewhat badly, or very badly?
The responses to Question 74 showed that by July 16,the gap between those who think the Iraq war is going very badly or somewhat badly (51%) and those who think its going very well or somewhat well (45%) had shrunk to six percentage points. That was the smallest gap since December 2005 (18 polls ago), which was two months before the terrorist explosion at a shrine in Samarra touched off Sunni-Shiite killings. By contrast, a May 2007 poll showed a gap of 53 percentage points. To summarize:Just asthe Iraq questionhas lostits political potency, the Times switches its polling to Afghanistan. Is it because Afghanistan is now a more reliable source for bad news?