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Most Back Israel, Split on U.S. Role

Times Staff Writers

Most Americans consider Israel’s bombing campaign in Lebanon justified, but they are divided about what role the United States should play in the crisis and how closely the nation should align itself with the Jewish state, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

The survey, conducted between Friday and Tuesday, also found that U.S. public opinion on the situation was evolving, with support for U.S. involvement in brokering peace rising steadily along with the death toll -- particularly after Sunday’s Israeli airstrike that killed dozens of civilians in the southern Lebanon town of Qana.

The poll found that nearly three in five respondents -- 59% -- backed Israel in the dispute that has now lasted more than three weeks, leaving hundreds dead and aligning much of the world in disagreement with the United States and Israel over whether to pursue an immediate cease-fire.

President Bush has resisted such an agreement until Hezbollah is disarmed and an international peacekeeping force can be assembled, a position that is generally in line with public sentiment in the United States, according to the survey. Of respondents, 13% backed an immediate cease-fire, while 45% said the United States should work toward both sides accepting an international peacekeeping force.

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“I feel badly for Israel. They don’t run around looking for trouble, but they are constantly being harassed and attacked by Hezbollah,” said Rick Poleck, 54, of Huntingdon, Pa., a poll respondent.

“Suppose this was Mexico and they were lobbing missiles into the United States. How long would we put up with that?” asked Poleck, a Republican who works as an engineer for a rural electric facility. “How do you defeat a terrorist enemy without [people] getting hurt?”

The poll found that 43% said Israel’s bombing campaign was justified but not excessively harsh, while 16% described the response as justified but excessive. Fewer than one in three respondents -- 28% -- said the response to Hezbollah was unjustified.

Although the poll was not designed to track day-to-day changes in public opinion, the sample size each day was large enough to reflect shifting attitudes toward events in the region and the increasingly aggressive moves by the Bush administration to secure an agreement through the United Nations.

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On the first day of polling, a plurality of respondents -- 46% -- said the United States should not get involved in the conflict. But that changed over the course of the violent weekend, with far more backing the idea of the United States working toward a peace deal.

“I know that there’s really nothing you can do with Hezbollah, but if the United States doesn’t do anything, the whole Middle East is going to blow up,” said poll respondent Pauline Fantroy, 68, a retired nurse who lives in New York City.

“Something has to be done,” said Fantroy, a Democrat. “I would get them all in a room and bat their heads against a wall like two little kids.”

The Times/Bloomberg poll, supervised by Times Polling Director Susan Pinkus, interviewed 1,478 adults, including 1,331 registered voters. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The poll also found that the Democrats have not yet created a groundswell of opposition over concerns that civil liberties are being inappropriately sacrificed as the administration pursues its national security policies.

A strong majority -- 65% -- said it was acceptable for the government to be tracking terrorist financing by monitoring international banking transactions, a program that was revealed in reports last month by The Times and other newspapers. The survey also showed that the public is evenly split on the acceptability of a spy program in which the National Security Agency monitors certain phone calls and e-mail correspondence by people in the United States.

Moreover, a majority said the media were behaving irresponsibly by revealing the government’s secret terrorist tracking programs.

The poll results suggested that the Middle East conflict could have domestic political consequences in the 2006 midterm elections and beyond, due in part to a growing partisan divide over Israel and its relationship with the United States. Republicans generally expressed stronger support for Israel, while Democrats tended to believe the United States should play a more neutral role in the region.

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Overall, 50% of the survey’s respondents said the United States should continue to align with Israel, compared with 44% who backed a more neutral posture. But the partisan gap was clear: Democrats supported neutrality over alignment, 54% to 39%, while Republicans supported alignment with the Jewish state 64% to 29%.

No more than 2% in either party supported siding more with Arab countries.

The GOP support for Israel mirrors the staunch backing the country has received from Bush. It also underscores a recalibration in the U.S. electorate -- although Jewish voters remain overwhelmingly Democratic, the GOP under Bush has succeeded in winning support from more religious Jews.

In terms of Bush’s overall standing among Americans, the poll provided several indications of the political opposition he faces and the polarizing nature of his presidency.

His overall approval rating stood at 40%, with 58% disapproving, a slight improvement over his marks in the spring and comparable to the findings in other recent surveys. Also, 51% said they disapproved of his handling of the situation in Lebanon, while 43% approved. And 50% expressed approval of Bush’s handling of the war on terrorism.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

War Views

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Do you think Israel’s actions are justified or not justified?

Justified, not excessively harsh: 43%

Justified, but excessively harsh: 16%

Unjustified: 28%

Don’t know: 13%

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Source: Times Poll

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Political views:

Mideast war

Q: As you may know, Israel has responded to rocket attacks from the Lebanese group Hezbollah by bombing Beirut and other cities in Lebanon. Do you think Israel’s actions are justified or not justified?

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans Justified, not excessively harsh 43% 29% 37% 64% Justified, but excessively harsh 16 20 15 11 Unjustified 28 36 33 17 Don’t know 13 15 15 8

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Q: Which of the following statements comes closer to your view: “The United States should continue to align itself with Israel” or “The United States should adopt a more neutral posture” or “The United States should side more with the Arab countries?”

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans Continue to align with Israel 50% 39% 46% 64% Adopt a more neutral posture 44 54 49 29 Should side more with Arab countries 2 2 2 1 Don’t know 4 5 3 6

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Q: The United States has not called for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah but has said that a cease-fire should wait until an international peacekeeping force can be assembled. Should the U.S. call for an immediate cease-fire, or should the U.S. continue to work toward both sides accepting an international peacekeeping force, or should the U.S. not get involved in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah?

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans U.S. call for an immediate cease-fire 13% 17% 13% 9% U.S. work toward both sides accepting international peacekeeping force 45 39 33 56 U.S. not get involved in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah 38 40 50 30 Don’t know 4 4 4 5

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Terrorism:

Q: How likely is it that there will be more terrorist attacks in the U.S. within the next 12 months: very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely or very unlikely?

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans Very/somewhat likely 78% 73% 81% 83% Somewhat/very unlikely 19 23 15 16 Don’t know 3 4 4 1

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Q: Do you think President Bush and his administration have formulated a clear policy for dealing with the war on terrorism, or do you think the Bush administration is reacting to events as they happen?

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans Formulated clear policy 29% 12% 25% 54% Reacting to events 63 81 70 37 Don’t know 8 7 5 9

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Q: Why do you think there have been no major attacks inside the United States since Sept. 11, 2001? Is it because the efforts of the U.S. government and intelligence agencies have made it more difficult for terrorists to operate, or because the war in Iraq has consumed the terrorists’ attention, or because the terrorists have chosen to attack other countries instead, or because the terrorists are patient and are waiting for the right time to attack the U.S.?

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans Efforts made by U.S. government and intelligence agencies 24% 14% 16% 39% War in Iraq has consumed terrorists’ attention 8 6 7 9 Terrorists have chosen other countries to attack 5 8 2 2 Terrorists are patient and waiting for right time 49 59 61 34 All or none of the above 11 9 10 14 Don’t know 3 4 4 2

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

How the poll was conducted: The Los Angeles Times / Bloomberg Poll contacted 1,478 adults nationwide by telephone July 28 through Aug. 1, 2006. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the nation, and random digit dialing techniques allowed listed and unlisted numbers to be contacted. Multiple attempts were made to contact each number. Adults were weighted slightly to conform with their respective census figures for sex, race, age, education and region. The margin of sampling error for both samples is plus or minus 3 percentage points in either direction. 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: L.A. Times poll


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