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Many Desire U.N. Backing for War on Iraq

Times Staff Writer

Although Americans were overwhelmingly convinced by the case Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made against Saddam Hussein in his speech to the United Nations, they remain wary of war against Iraq without clear-cut U.N. backing, according to a new Los Angeles Times Poll.

The survey, conducted among people interviewed a week earlier and contacted again Friday and Saturday, found a slight increase in support for unilateral military action and an uptick in President Bush’s approval rating. Support for the president’s handling of Iraq also increased.

But there remains a deep desire to avoid war, even if it means prolonging the U.N. inspection process for weeks or even months.

“I found it very convincing, yes,” Nancy Moody, 62, who owns an industrial gas business in western Pennsylvania, said of Powell’s presentation Wednesday. “But I don’t see what’s the rush. Our economy is in the toilet and state budgets are way out of whack. I don’t want to go to war unless it’s absolutely the last possible option.”

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Sixty-two percent of those surveyed said they would back a war effort endorsed by the U.N. Security Council. That support dropped to 55% when respondents were asked whether they would support a military action with some allied backing, but without U.N. concurrence.

The poll also found Americans to be on guard after the federal government last week raised its terrorism threat level to “high risk” and warned of growing concern about an attack during the ongoing Muslim holy days. But nearly nine in 10 of those surveyed said they have no intention of changing their behavior because of the elevated alert.

“If I change the way I live ... then I feel the terrorists are winning,” said Lynn Chase, 49, who lives about 90 miles north of New York City in rural Sparrow Bush, N.Y. “And I’m stubborn enough not to let them affect my life.”

Powell -- whose job approval rating surpasses that of Bush -- presented a detailed case against Iraq before the U.N. Security Council. Employing satellite photographs and secretly recorded conversations, Powell told the U.N. that Hussein is thwarting weapons inspectors, hiding weapons of mass destruction and harboring Al Qaeda-linked terrorists.

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While Powell was addressing multiple audiences -- including Security Council member states and skeptics abroad -- the poll shows he clearly made his case to the American people. More than seven in 10 of those surveyed agreed that Powell had proved that Iraq was actively working to deceive U.N. weapons inspectors; a like number believe Powell also demonstrated that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Americans were somewhat less convinced about the Iraqi-Al Qaeda link, with 65% believing Powell had made the case.

That said, only one in 10 of those questioned said Powell’s speech had changed their minds and turned them into supporters of war with Iraq. “I feel more confident [the Bush administration] has the information they say they’ve had. I didn’t feel that way a month ago,” said Elizabeth LaGambina, a 39-year-old business consultant in Halifax, Mass., who was one of several poll participants who agreed to discuss their feelings in a follow-up interview.

She said, “We shouldn’t go it alone. We should have the support of the U.N. I fear the rest of the world looking at us as if we’re attempting to dominate the world and, when we see something we don’t like, we’re going to plow in and take care of it.”

There also was some hardening of attitudes toward Hussein.

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Asked in the latest survey if they would favor allowing the Iraq president to go into exile in exchange for the U.S. calling off military action, 60% responded favorably and 34% were opposed. A week ago, in the poll taken after Bush had delivered his State of the Union address Jan. 29, 64% were in favor and 29% were opposed.

“We should get rid of this dictator and let the people see what it’s like to live in the free world,” said Herschel Lewis, a 66-year-old Pennsylvania retiree who favors military action “even if we have to go it alone.... As a strong nation, we have to promulgate our way of life throughout the world.”

Many more respondents, however, prefer to see the United States acting in concert with the United Nations, an attitude largely unchanged from the poll conducted before Powell’s speech and Bush’s warning Thursday to Iraq that “the game is over.”

Just a third of those surveyed said that instead of going to war, they favor allowing U.N. inspections in Iraq to continue for weeks or months if that is necessary to eliminate the risk posed by Hussein. Three in 10 also support the U.S. taking immediate military action, while 10% oppose war under any circumstances; 22% would allow inspections to go on indefinitely.

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A majority of Americans, however, seems to have a patience limit. Only a third of those polled believed Hussein could be contained by a permanent weapons inspection team in Iraq, a proposal floated by U.N. Security Council member France. Nearly 60% said military action is the only way to eliminate the risk posed by Hussein.

Overall, the survey found a bump in support for Bush, whose job approval rating climbed from 52% a week ago to 61% in the latest survey. (Powell had an 78% job approval rating, with 50% strongly approving of his performance.) Support for Bush’s handling of Iraq climbed from 54% to 60%.

Nearly eight people in 10 now believe a war with Iraq is inevitable -- compared with 74% a week ago -- and about two-thirds of respondents believe it will last up to six months or more. About 25% expect a war to last less than a month.

Regardless of their attitudes about war, a substantial majority -- 64% -- believes a decision to invade will mean a U.S. commitment of six months or more to rebuild Iraq afterward. Nearly three-fifths believe Americans will have to stay and rebuild for a year or more.

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Seven in 10 also believe that the threat of terrorism against Americans at home and aboard has increased because of the possibility of U.S. military action against Iraq.

Still, 88% of those surveyed said they were not changing their behavior -- avoiding public places or major events, for instance -- out of fear of a terrorist attack.

Richard Purdy, 56, who grows garlic and potatoes on a 200-acre farm in western Wisconsin, admitted his rural patch is an unlikely terrorist target. But he travels to San Francisco and Washington, D.C., among other places, and said he won’t be deterred by heightened alerts.

“I figure there’s always been risks,” Purdy said. “We just ignored it until the twin towers happened. It was always there. Now we just live with it.”

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The Times Poll, under the supervision of director Susan Pinkus, interviewed 1,385 adults nationwide Jan 30-Feb 2; 809 adults from the original study were contacted by telephone Friday and Saturday. The margin of sampling error for both samples is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Impact of Powell’s speech

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The Times Poll contacted the same Americans in the days before and after Colin Powell’s presentation of evidence against Iraq to the U.N. Security Council.

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Do you trust President Bush to make the right decision about whether we should go to war with Iraq?

Before Powell’s speech

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Trust him: 53%

Don’t trust him: 44%

Don’t know: 3%

After Powell’s speech

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Trust him: 57%

Don’t trust him: 39%

Don’t know: 4%

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Q: If the Security Council does not approve military action against Iraq, but the U.S. has the support of some allies, such as Britain, would you support or oppose taking military action?

Before Powell’s speech

Support: 50%

Oppose: 45%

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Don’t know: 5%

After Powell’s speech

Support: 55%

Oppose: 42%

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Don’t know: 3%

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Q: Agree or disagree: “The U.S. should take military action against Iraq only if it has the support of the U.N. Security Council”?

Before speech

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Agree: 65%

Disagree: 32%

Don’t know: 3%

After speech

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Agree: 62%

Disagree: 37%

Don’t know: 1%

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Q: Suppose President Bush decides to order U.S. troops into a ground attack against Iraqi forces. Would you support or oppose that decision?

Before speech

Agree: 44%

Disagree: 41%

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Don’t know: 4%

After speech

Agree: 58%

Disagree: 37%

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Don’t know: 5%

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Q: Those who watched or listened to Powell’s speech, or said they heard or read about it, were asked if they agree or disagree that the U.S. has proved its case that Iraq ...?

Has failed to comply with U.N. resolutions

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Agree strongly: 50

Agree somewhat: 24

Disagree: 24

Has weapons of mass destruction

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Agree strongly: 47

Agree somewhat: 23

Disagree: 28

Has close ties with Al Qaeda

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Agree strongly: 45

Agree somewhat: 19

Disagree: 32

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Q: Those who watched or listened to Powell’s speech, or said they heard or read about it, were then asked which of the following statements best described their views:

Before Powell’s speech...

-- “I did not favor U.S. military action against Iraq, but the speech changed my mind and I favor it now.” -- 10%

-- “I did not favor U.S. military action, and the speech did not change my mind.” -- 36%

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-- “I favored U.S. military action, and the speech did not change my mind.” -- 50%

-- “I favored U.S. military action, but the speech changed my mind and I do not favor it now.” -- 4%

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Note: Numbers may not total 100% where “don’t know” responses are not shown.

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Times Poll results are also available at www.latimes.com/timespoll

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HOW THE POLL WAS CONDUCTED

The Times Poll contacted 1,385 respondents nationwide who had participated in a Los Angeles Times telephone poll conducted Jan 30-Feb 2. For this survey, 809 men and women from the original study were contacted again by telephone Friday and Saturday. The sampling frame for the original study was randomly selected from a list of all exchanges in the nation. That sample was produced from telephone numbers which used random-digit dialing techniques so that listed and unlisted numbers could be contacted. Replies from this subset of the original sample were weighted to account for sex, race, age, education and region. As a result, previously published findings for the original study may sometimes differ slightly from results obtained from this subset. On the other hand, differences in replies to identical questions asked at different times show exact changes of attitudes for the weighted subset. The margin of sampling error for the original sample and the sample contacted again is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as changing events, question wording and the order in which questions are presented.

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Times Poll data management supervisor Claudia Vaughn contributed to this story.


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