From an article by Everett Carll Ladd in the September/October 1987 issue of the magazine Public Opinion: Public support for contra aid has risen, according to all available surveys, from the months preceding Oliver North's televised testimony to just after it. This turnaround . . . is really quite extraordinary. The thrust of this article, though, is that the whole elephant of public opinion on what the United States should do in Central America is highly unlikely to have been much changed. It is too big and solid for that.
Polls show an ambivalent American public -- one wanting disparate and even contradictory things. And that is as far as the opinion polls can take us. Public opinion is not neatly in favor of, or opposed to, aiding the contras.
If the negotiations that have begun promote the end Americans unambiguously favor -- curbing advances by pro-Soviet forces in Central America and extending democracy without armed conflict -- the political controversy that has fed off public ambivalence on matters relating to contra aid will be defused. But if negotiations don't lead to this result, the controversy will certainly continue.
Politicians wanting to know what the bottom line is -- whether a vote for contra aid, or one against it, is the more costly in the coin of public opinion -- won't get a clear answer from the polls. There is simply no way that the cross-pulls described here are going to receive an emphatic "yea or nay" resolution in the context of an opinion survey.
This doesn't mean that there isn't a resolution -- only that it comes through elections as voters feed their amorphous conclusions from the Central America debate into larger judgments about candidates and the parties. . . .