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U.S.: New Polls Show Americans Largely Support Iraq War Despite Misgivings About Bush

  • Jeffrey Donovan

How does the American public feel about a possible war with Iraq? Analysts say public opinion is still in flux, but recent polls show growing support for military action.

Washington, 14 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- New opinion polls show a majority of Americans appear to be growing impatient with United Nations diplomacy on Iraq and would approve of a U.S.-led attack on Baghdad.

But while polls published this week show a slight increase in the U.S. public's support of President George W. Bush on Iraq, they also indicate that a growing number of Americans generally disapprove of Bush's overall job performance.

In a poll by CBS News and "The New York Times," two-thirds of Americans say they believe military action should be taken against Iraq. Fifty-five percent say they would approve of a war even without the backing of the United Nations.

Carroll Doherty of the Pew Research Center, a leading U.S. pollster, told RFE/RL that on the use of force without UN approval, the numbers appear to be shifting in Bush's favor. "Over the last week, we've seen a slight but perceptible movement in the administration's direction in terms of going at it [war] with a coalition and now even in the absence of a UN resolution," Doherty said.

The CBS-"New York Times" poll also shows growing impatience with the debate at the UN over a new resolution authorizing force against Iraq. A month ago, U.S. public opinion was seen as evenly split on whether the UN was doing a good job in Iraq. Now, 58 percent of respondents say it is doing a poor job.

Moreover, following a media blitz on Iraq by the Bush administration, 44 percent said that the United States should take military action soon, up from 35 percent last week. Only 52 percent said UN inspectors should be given more time, down from 60 percent last week.

Still, Americans appear to be uncertain. Forty-nine percent of those polled said that if Russia, China, or France vetoes a resolution on Iraq, the United States should take their stance into account. Forty-four percent said the United States should proceed anyway.

For Doherty, those numbers reflect a national mood that could easily change, depending on the circumstances. "I think the big question is what happens with the public when the UN negotiations stop and there has to be a decision on whether to go to war. And does the public then, when war is imminent, does the public then say, 'Yes, go ahead' or, 'You need more time.' And we don't know that at this point," Doherty said.

Meanwhile, Bush's approval ratings, which soared to near 80 percent at this time last year, continue to fall. Several polls put public support for the president at about 53 percent, down from about 65 percent last fall. Also, only 39 percent said they would vote to re-elect Bush, compared to 54 percent a year ago.

Analysts believe the decline in Bush's approval ratings is mostly due to the poor U.S. economy.

But the war does loom large. The huge protests that have taken place in international capitals have also been seen in American cities, and several more demonstrations are set to be staged this weekend across the country.

U.S. churches, led by the Catholic Church and including Bush's own Methodist Church, also have come out against war.

Last week, Bush met with an envoy of Pope John Paul II, who was carrying a personal note from the pontiff. The envoy, Cardinal Pio Laghi, said the meeting had been friendly but that sometimes "friendship is not enough."

One of the most vehemently antiwar states is California, the most populous state in the union and one known for liberal attitudes. John Dizikes is a professor emeritus of American Studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Dizikes told RFE/RL that opposition to a war in Iraq is palpable in California. "The overwhelming sentiment [is] to want this to be resolved by diplomatic, peaceful means. I think the polls mostly show people do not want the United States to go it alone; they want us to work through the United Nations. And we are obviously prepared to damage the United Nations because we wish to have our own way," Dizikes said.

The recent polls each questioned about 1,000 people and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2-3 percent.

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