Sunday, April 18, 2004

Most Americans continue to strongly support President Bush’s conduct of the war on terrorism and his decision to go into Iraq, despite rising troop casualties there, polls show.

Most recent surveys find a tightening of the presidential race between Mr. Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry, as well as a decline in public support for the U.S. presence in Iraq.

But other polls reveal that a majority — in some cases, strong ones — support the president’s inclusion of Iraq as part of the war against the terrorists who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.

Americans have become more divided over the Iraq campaign since insurgents launched a violent offensive nearly three weeks ago, but a majority remains behind the president’s handling of the war, according to a Time/CNN poll conducted April 8. Among its findings:

• 55 percent approve of the way Mr. Bush has conducted the war on terrorism; 39 percent do not approve.

c53 percent believe that going to war in Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime was the right decision; 41 percent do not. Notably, 39 percent of Democratic voters also said it was the right move, along with 52 percent of self-described independents.

• 64 percent believe that al Qaeda “is involved in the attacks by Iraqis against U.S. troops in recent days,” echoing Mr. Bush’s contention that the war in Iraq is part and parcel of the global war on terrorism, not a diversion.

“This suggests that two-thirds of the country think that the war in Iraq is but one theater in the larger war on terror,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres said.

The Time/CNN survey also reveals that many Americans do not take a simplistic view in evaluating how things are going in Iraq for U.S. forces.

When asked to score the U.S. military’s actions in Iraq, 26 percent say it has been successful, and 24 percent say it has been unsuccessful; fully 49 percent say the result is somewhere “in between.”

“Most reasonable people think that it’s too soon to tell whether we are winning the war on terror, just like it was not at all certain at the start of 1944 that we were winning World War II,” Mr. Ayres said. “They see this struggle in a more nuanced way.”

A more recent survey, released Friday by the National Annenberg Election Survey, found that 57 percent of 1,267 voters want to keep U.S. forces in Iraq until authority is handed over to a provisional Iraqi government. The survey found that 36 percent want to bring the troops home “as soon as possible.”

The Annenberg poll, conducted April 1 through 14, also showed that Mr. Bush’s overall job approval has not suffered as a result of the mounting casualties: 53 percent approved of his performance; 44 percent disapproved.

Similarly, the latest Gallup Poll showed that though Americans believe the war in Iraq is not going well, the president’s job-approval rating remained unchanged at 53 percent.

“That was striking to me, that in the face of declining views on Iraq, his job approval held firm,” Mr. Ayres said. “It tells me that people have bought into the president’s arguments that this is going to be a long battle with highs and lows.”

An Associated Press poll last week by Ipsos-Public Affairs found that concern about terrorism and the war in Iraq has risen significantly over the past year though worry about the economy has fallen.

The percentage of those surveyed who named terrorism as their chief fear climbed from 14 percent to 21 percent, and those who mentioned war almost doubled from 9 percent to 17 percent.

A year ago, 31 percent of those polled named the economy as the biggest concern; the latest AP survey found that 18 percent cite it now.

Some political analysts see bad news for Mr. Kerry in the shift from concern over the economy to terrorism, which is Mr. Bush’s strongest issue. The Massachusetts senator has garnered weak polling numbers on national security and the war against terrorism.

The AP poll found that Mr. Bush was backed by 45 percent of voters and Mr. Kerry by 44 percent, a result basically unchanged from mid-March. Independent candidate Ralph Nader had 6 percent support.

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