Most U.S. voters now say it was not worth going to war in Iraq, but an overwhelming majority reject the idea of setting a deadline to withdraw all U.S. forces from the country, according to a Times poll.
Though the survey found voters increasingly worried that America was becoming ensnarled in Iraq and pessimistic that a democratic government would take root, less than one in five said America should withdraw all its forces within weeks. And less than one in four endorsed the idea advanced by some Democratic-leaning foreign policy experts and liberal groups to establish a specific date for withdrawal.
“I never thought we should go to war in Iraq,” said Anne Wardwell, a retired museum curator in Cleveland who responded to the poll. “But I think we have to see it through, because if we don’t it is going to be a disaster in the region.”
The survey also showed widespread concern that the war had damaged America’s image in the world, a strong desire to see NATO take the lead in managing the conflict, and deep division over whether President Bush could rally more international support for the rebuilding effort.
The Times Poll, supervised by polling director Susan Pinkus, surveyed 1,230 registered voters from Saturday through Tuesday. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Anxiety over the war’s direction and reluctance to abandon the cause in Iraq radiated through the responses.
Most voters retained faith that the U.S. could control the military situation in the country. About half of those polled -- 52% -- said they thought the U.S. was winning the war; 24% said the insurgents were winning.
But voters were uncertain about the prospects of achieving broader goals in Iraq. Just 35% said the U.S. was “making good progress in Iraq,” while 61% said they thought the U.S. was “getting bogged down.” Three-fifths of independents and more than four-fifths of Democrats shared the sense that the effort was stalling.
But a majority of Republicans, like Rosemary Wolfram of Cincinnati, see progress occurring. “I think we see some light at the end of the tunnel on the war,” said Wolfram, a legal assistant.
Noting that an Iraqi interim government is preparing to assume sovereignty June 30, she added, “That is going in the right direction.”
In perhaps the most emphatic measure of anxiety about Iraq, 53% said they did not think the situation there merited the war; 43% said it did. When Times polls asked that question in November and March, the numbers were essentially reversed.
In the latest survey, more than four-fifths of Republicans viewed the war as justified, while more than four-fifths of Democrats and 54% of independents said it was not.
“Since there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, I have doubts that it was worth it, especially considering the amount of resentment and distrust that this has caused, not only with our allies but in the whole Muslim world,” said Ray Luechtefeld, a professor at the University of Missouri.
The poll underscores how attitudes about the war loom as a dividing line in the presidential election. Among those who think the threat from Iraq justified war, Bush leads Sen. John F. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, 83% to 13%. Among those who think the war was not justified, Kerry leads, 84% to 11%.
Expectations are limited for the Iraqi interim government. Nearly two-thirds of those polled said they did not think the interim government would be able to govern the country without help from the U.S. and its allies.
And many are pessimistic that the Iraqis can sustain a democratic government: 38% think it is likely Iraq will maintain a democracy after the U.S.-led coalition forces leave, while 49% consider it unlikely.
Nearly three-fifths said Bush’s Iraq policies had hurt America’s image abroad; one in five thought they had improved attitudes toward the U.S.
Such concerns have eroded confidence in Bush’s management of the war. Just 44% said they approved of Bush’s handling of the war; in March, that figure was 51%. In the new poll, 35% said he had outlined a clear plan to succeed in Iraq.
Asked about his handling of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, 41% approved and 37% disapproved.
Kerry has faced criticism from some in his party for not offering a more distinct alternative to Bush’s Iraq policy. In a sign that Kerry’s position is murky to many voters, the poll found 15% said he had offered a clear plan on how to handle the situation, while 34% said he had not, and the rest did not know.
But another question pointed to the opening for Kerry created by doubts about Bush’s direction. Voters split almost in half when asked if they accepted Kerry’s contention that Bush had lost so much credibility around the world that only a new president could “rally the support of U.S. allies to help stabilize Iraq.”
Forty-six percent agreed with that charge; 47% disagreed. A majority of independents sided with Kerry, including Luechtefeld, the University of Missouri professor. “I think the best option is to get rid of President Bush, have him voted out of office, so that some of the attitudes will change abroad,” he said.
Leah Hubertz, a hairstylist from Delavan, Wis., embodied the ambivalence on the question.
“I think the rest of the world would like us a little bit more if we changed leaders,” she said. “But if you replaced [Bush] right now with John Kerry, I don’t know how good a job he would be doing in the same position.”
Most voters were eager for more international help in Iraq: 56% said the U.S. should give NATO the principal role in securing the country. Kerry has proposed such an idea, but NATO, which will discuss the question at its summit this month, has been reluctant to accept even a minor role.
Twenty-four percent of those polled said the U.S. should establish a deadline for withdrawing all its troops from Iraq, as experts such as James B. Steinberg, the former deputy national security advisor under President Clinton, had proposed. Seventy-three percent rejected the idea.
The poll found voters inclined to defer to the new Iraqi government on whether to increase or reduce the size of the U.S. deployment.
Asked what the U.S. should do as the new government took power, 41% wanted to reduce the American presence, with 18% of voters saying all troops should be withdrawn and 23% calling for partial withdrawal.
But 41% also said the U.S. should add or subtract troops only at the request of the interim government. (Another 9% wanted to increase troop deployment regardless of the interim government’s view.)
The cooperative impulse only extended so far: 51% said the Iraqi government should not be given a veto over military operations by the U.S. and its allies.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Attitudes on Iraq
All in all, do you think the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, or not?
Registered voters Worth it 43% Not worth it 53% Don’t know 4%
Dem. Ind. Rep. Worth it 16% 42% 83% Not worth it 81 54 11 Don’t know 3 4 6
Source: Times Poll
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Voters’ attitudes about the war in Iraq
Q. Do you think the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq have given countries around the world a more positive or more negative opinion of the U.S., or have Bush’s policies had no effect?
Registered voters Democrats Independents Republicans Positive 21% 8% 23% 35% Negative 57 75 58 29 No effect 12 7 12 23 Don’t know 10 10 7 13
Q. Do you think the Iraqis are ready to govern their country without help from the U.S. and its allies, or not? Ready 27% Not ready 65% Don’t know 8%
Q. Do you think it is likely or unlikely that Iraq will be able to maintain a democratic government after the U.S. and its allies leave? Likely 38% Unlikely 49% Don’t know 13%
Q. When the handover of Iraq to an interim government is complete on June 30, to improve security should the U.S.: Increase troops 9% Withdraw some troops 23% Don’t know 9% Withdraw all troops 18% Increase/decrease troops at request of interim government 41%
Q. Do you think the U.S. should set a specific date at which time American troops will withdraw from Iraq, or not? Set a specific date 24% Not set a specific date 73% Don’t know 3%
Q. Should the interim Iraqi government have veto power to block military operations led by the U.S. military forces and its allies, or not? Have veto power 36% Not have veto power 51% Don’t know 10%
Q. Should the U.S. give NATO the principal role in the security of Iraq, or not? Principal role 56% Not a principal role 31% Don’t know 13%
All results shown are among registered voters. Numbers may not total 100% where some answer categories are not shown.
How the poll was conducted: The Times Poll contacted 1,477 adults nationwide, including 1,230 registered voters, by telephone Saturday through Tuesday. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the nation, and random digit dialing techniques were used to allow listed and unlisted numbers to be contacted. The entire sample of adults was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age and education. The margin of sampling error for all registered voters in the nation is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For certain subgroups, the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results may also be affected by factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented.
Source: Times Poll