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Majority support pullout timeline

Times Staff Writer

A majority of Americans favor setting a fixed timetable for bringing troops home from Iraq, and just 12% would support a plan to increase troop strength, an option under serious consideration by the military, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

A month after a watershed election that switched control of Congress to the Democrats, respondents expressed low confidence in President Bush’s ability to resolve the conflict in Iraq.

By a hefty margin they said Iraq should be the top priority for the new Congress. A plurality of 45% said they had more trust in Democrats to handle the war; 34% said they had more confidence in Bush, who has rejected the idea of setting any timetable for withdrawing troops.

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Nearly two-thirds said they believed Iraq had descended into civil war, which Bush has denied. At a time when the administration is at work on a new strategy for Iraq and is resisting calls to start bringing troops home, the poll suggests that the president and his staff are out of step with public opinion.

“The public doesn’t want the status quo any longer in Iraq, and they believe the Democrats, rather than President Bush, will be best at finding a solution to the war,” said Times polling director Susan Pinkus.

A majority of 52% of the poll’s respondents -- including nearly 1 in 3 Republicans -- said they preferred a fixed timetable for withdrawal; 26% of those surveyed favored Bush’s option of keeping troops on the ground until the country was secure.

About 1 in 8 expressed support for the option of increasing troop strength, which is favored by many Pentagon leaders and has been proposed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a likely presidential candidate.

“I’d rather get them home now,” Marcia Downing, 54, a homemaker from Nashville who is a registered Republican, said in a follow-up interview. “We are losing people day after day after day.... Get our sons home.”

The war appears to be the top issue on Americans’ minds. When asked an open question about priorities for the new Congress, 27% of respondents listed Iraq as their top concern. The next two issues -- healthcare at 16% and immigration at 11% -- ranked significantly lower.

Respondents from both parties expressed strong support for the recommendations released last week by the Iraq Study Group, which urged the administration to make a new diplomatic effort to engage Iraq’s neighbors in stabilizing the country.

By 64% to 28%, respondents favored the group’s recommendation to open direct talks with Iran and Syria.

“Dialogue is important in any resolution,” said Terry Katz, 52, who runs a landscaping company in Cincinnati.

Katz, who is Jewish, said he disagreed with the administration’s decision to shun Iran because of its hostility to Israel and its nuclear weapons program, saying: “I think that’s all the more reason to talk to them.”

The panel also encouraged the administration to shift the military mission in Iraq from combat to training, which would permit most combat troops to withdraw by early 2008 and a smaller number of training advisors to remain, largely embedded with Iraqi security forces. Respondents also favored that option nearly 2 to 1.

“I believe we need to be out of there,” said Marilyn Perlman, 65, of Boulder, Colo. “Pulling our troops out of the midst of the battle makes sense, and relocating them near the borders” could prevent more violence.

Overall, 56% of those polled said they believed the situation in Iraq was not worth going to war over, compared with 40% who said it was. That result was roughly comparable to results from polls earlier this year.

Bush’s overall approval rating stood at 42%, generally in line with other results in the last year, in which his approval rating has fluctuated between a high of 45% and a low of 38%.

Respondents said they trusted Democrats more than Republicans on nearly every issue, including the economy.

Poll participants even gave the Democrats the edge on one of the Republicans’ signature issues: taxes. Forty-seven percent said they trusted Democrats more than Republicans to do a better job handling taxes, and 56% said they would favor repealing Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy and investors.

And despite the Bush administration’s new Medicare prescription drug benefit, 63% of respondents said they thought Democrats would do a better job of handling drug prices for the elderly and poor.

The only area in which Bush had an advantage over Democrats was the war on terrorism. Forty-three percent of respondents said they thought the president would do a better job than Democrats on national security and terrorism, whereas 38% said Democrats would. However, his advantage has declined in the last year; in January it was 45% to 32%.

Though Americans said they preferred Democrats on most issues, they also said they wanted both sides to work together. Sixty-five percent said Democrats and Bush should compromise to get things done, while 32% said they should stand up for their beliefs.

Democrats seemed more conciliatory than Republicans: 57% of Democrats said their party should compromise rather than stand on principle, and Republicans split about evenly, with 47% favoring compromise and 51% urging the president to stand up for his beliefs.

The poll of 1,489 adults conducted Dec. 8 through 11 had a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points.

maura.reynolds@latimes.com

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Poll respondents’ views on withdrawal of troops from Iraq:

Withdrawn on a fixed timetable:

52%

Kept in Iraq to secure the country:

26%

More troops should be sent:

12%

Don’t know: 10%

---

Source: Times/Bloomberg poll

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Changing the course

Q. Who do you think can do a better job of handling . . . ?

*--* Bush Democrats Both/ Neither Problems facing the country 28% 47 19 The economy 34% 51 11 National security and war on terrorism 43% 38 14 Immigration issues 29% 42 21 Taxes 38% 47 10 Situation in Iraq 34% 45 16 Prescription drug prices for the elderly/poor 17% 63 13

*--*

Q. Some members of Congress are calling for a timetable for withdrawing American troops from Iraq, while others are saying that our troops should remain in Iraq until the country is secure, and others are proposing that more troops should be sent to Iraq. What do you think?

*--* Democrats Independents Republicans Troops should be withdrawn on a fixed timetable 76% 51% 29% Troops should be kept in Iraq to secure the country 11 26 40 More troops should be sent 4 14 20 Don’t know 9 9 11

*--*

Q. Do you think President Bush should adopt the Iraq Study Group’s recommendation on . . . ?

Cutting military/economic support for Iraq unless the Iraqi government shows significant progress on political reforms and national reconciliation

Yes: 70%

No: 22%

Don’t know: 8%

Talking directly with Iran and Syria about the future of Iraq

Yes: 64%

No: 28%

Don’t know: 8%

Reducing American troops by early 2008 and replacing them with a smaller number of troops embedded in the Iraqi military, as well as training Iraqi forces

Yes: 59%

No: 30%

Don’t know: 11%

Note: Results are among adults nationwide. Numbers may not total 100% where multiple responses are accepted or some answer categories are not shown.

Poll results and analysis can be found at: www.latimes.com/timespoll

How the poll was conducted: The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll contacted 1,489 adults, including 1,342 registered voters, nationwide by telephone Dec. 8 through 11. 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 all adults, and registered voters, 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.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Changing the course

Q. Who do you think can do a better job of handling . . . ?

*--* Bush Democrats Both/ Neither Problems facing the country 28% 47 19 The economy 34% 51 11 National security and war on terrorism 43% 38 14 Immigration issues 29% 42 21 Taxes 38% 47 10 Situation in Iraq 34% 45 16 Prescription drug prices for the elderly/poor 17% 63 13

*--*

Q. Some members of Congress are calling for a timetable for withdrawing American troops from Iraq, while others are saying that our troops should remain in Iraq until the country is secure, and others are proposing that more troops should be sent to Iraq. What do you think?

*--* Democrats Independents Republicans Troops should be withdrawn on a fixed timetable 76% 51% 29% Troops should be kept in Iraq to secure the country 11 26 40 More troops should be sent 4 14 20 Don’t know 9 9 11

*--*

Q. Do you think President Bush should adopt the Iraq Study Group’s recommendation on . . . ?

Cutting military/economic support for Iraq unless the Iraqi government shows significant progress on political reforms and national reconciliation

Yes: 70%

No: 22%

Don’t know: 8%

Talking directly with Iran and Syria about the future of Iraq

Yes: 64%

No: 28%

Don’t know: 8%

Reducing American troops by early 2008 and replacing them with a smaller number of troops embedded in the Iraqi military, as well as training Iraqi forces

Yes: 59%

No: 30%

Don’t know: 11%

Note: Results are among adults nationwide. Numbers may not total 100% where multiple responses are accepted or some answer categories are not shown.

Poll results and analysis can be found at: www.latimes.com/timespoll

How the poll was conducted: The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll contacted 1,489 adults, including 1,342 registered voters, nationwide by telephone Dec. 8 through 11. 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 all adults, and registered voters, 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.


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