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Most disagree with troop buildup in Iraq

Times Staff Writer

A strong majority of Americans opposes President Bush’s decision to send more troops to Iraq, and about half of the country wants Congress to block the deployment, a Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

As he seeks to chart a new course in Iraq, Bush also faces pervasive resistance to and skepticism about the U.S. commitment -- more than three-fifths of those surveyed said the war was not worth fighting, and only one-third approved of his handling of the conflict.

And in a striking measure of people’s declining trust in Bush, half said they believed he deliberately misled the U.S. in making his case for invading Iraq.

This is Bush’s weakest showing on these questions in a Times poll.

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Asked about the president’s recent announcement that he would dispatch an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq, three-fifths said they opposed the move, whereas just over one-third backed it.

Even Bush’s political base showed signs of cracking: About one-fourth of Republicans said they did not believe the war was worth fighting, and a roughly equal number opposed the troop increase.

“I want us to get out; I want us to leave,” said poll respondent Beth Anderson, a Republican from Belle Center, Ohio, who has a son in the Army.

Anderson, an X-ray technician, added: “I think I was one of the biggest, ‘Yes, we need to go over there’ .... And then, little by little, it just got to be too long and too much, and the cost is, wow, awful.”

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The poll’s findings drive home the extent to which Iraq has politically weakened Bush, whose reelection just more than two years ago stirred dreams among his advisors of cementing an enduring GOP electoral majority in Washington.

The results also underscore the immense challenge confronting Bush: The public’s loss of faith in the war’s direction, his handling of the conflict and questions about his credibility all make it more difficult for him to rally support for the new direction he argues is necessary to turn the tide.

The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, supervised by Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus, surveyed 1,344 adults nationwide by telephone Saturday through Tuesday. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

With attitudes about Iraq weighing heavily against him, Bush’s overall job approval rating stood at 39%, with 59% disapproving. Those figures are comparable with what had been Bush’s worst showing in a Times poll -- last winter, his approval rating was 38%, with 58% disapproving.

On Iraq, 33% approved of Bush’s handling of the war, with 65% disapproving.

The sole ray of light for Bush in the poll may be signs of public ambivalence about how Congress should respond to his plans on Iraq. Despite the widespread opposition to the troop escalation, Americans divide more closely on whether lawmakers should try to stop it.

The public clearly wants Congress to address the issue in some fashion: Forty-five percent of those polled said Iraq should be Capitol Hill’s first priority, more than double the next-closest issue (dealing with healthcare, which drew 20%).

A narrow majority -- 51% -- wants Congress to try to block Bush from sending more troops to Iraq, with 25% saying lawmakers should deny funding for the increase and 26% saying they should find other legislative measures to stop him. Forty-one percent said Congress should not attempt to stop Bush, and the rest were unsure.

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Carl Edwards, a welder from Morganton, N.C., expressed the divided beliefs of many when he said he wanted Congress to try to prevent the new deployment, but worried about hurting troops already in the field.

“They should stop sending funds to [Bush for more troops], but not cut the military funds down to where it is hurting the soldiers,” he said.

Americans divide in similar proportions when asked whether Congress should attempt to require Bush “to begin withdrawing the troops already in Iraq.”

Exactly half said Congress should take steps to begin removing troops (42% opposed such an effort).

On the other hand, 48% were against Congress establishing a mandatory deadline for the withdrawal of all troops, whereas 45% said Congress should set such a deadline either by terminating funding (17%) or through other legislative means (28%).

Despite the conflict about Congress’ role, responses to a succession of questions showed that a solid majority wanted the U.S. to begin extricating itself from Iraq rather than expanding its military commitment.

When asked how the U.S. should proceed, 30% said it should maintain troops in Iraq “for as long as it takes to win the war.”

By contrast, nearly two-thirds wanted troop withdrawals to begin within the next year, with 46% saying the process should start over that period and 19% saying all troops should be sent home immediately.

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Similarly, 60% agreed the U.S. should withdraw “most ... troops from Iraq by early 2008 while keeping military training forces there to assist and train Iraq troops.” Opposing that idea were 31%.

These results closely tracked the reaction to Bush’s decision to deploy more troops to Iraq -- 60% opposed it and 36% supported it.

“It’s just too little, too late,” said Charles Davis, a market research analyst and Democrat from New York.

Dale Sibley, a salesman in Clinton, Miss., typified those who backed Bush’s decision to send more troops.

The deployment might create greater stability in Iraq and allow the U.S. to bring home its forces faster, said Sibley, a Republican. “I think [U.S. troops] have got to get the job done a little better before they can turn it over to the Iraqis,” he said.

Part of Bush’s problem is that relatively few of those polled shared Sibley’s opinion that a troop increase would meaningfully improve conditions in Iraq. Twenty-seven percent said more U.S. troops would translate into less violence in Iraq; 24% said it would increase violence; and 43% said it would have no effect.

Kevin Steelman, a truck driver from Yadkinville, N.C., was among the skeptics. “It’s going to be a never-ending battle,” he said. “I don’t foresee a big change by sending more troops over there.”

Another key element of Bush’s revised plan for Iraq -- a public works program for the country -- drew a more mixed but still skeptical response.

Though 55% said they did not believe the U.S. had a moral obligation to pay for Iraqi reconstruction, respondents divided closely on whether a public works program would discourage young Iraqis from joining the insurgency: Thirty-eight percent said it would and 43% said it would not, with the rest uncertain.

Most of those polled said that rather than Bush’s plan, they would prefer that the administration follow the direction charted last month by the independent Iraq Study Group.

That panel, led by James A. Baker III, secretary of State during the presidency of Bush’s father, and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), proposed that the U.S. begin withdrawing troops from Iraq during the next year and talk with Iran and Syria about promoting stability in the region.

Asked to choose between that approach and Bush’s new plan, 53% said they preferred the study group’s recommendations -- nearly double the 28% that favored the president’s proposal.

“If [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice has to go Iran or Syria and talk, and there are 1,000 or 2,000 lives of American soldiers saved, that is cheaper than letting those soldiers die,” said Democrat Daljit Bajwa, a real estate broker from La Habra.

Asked whether Bush “deliberately misled Congress and the American people” with his prewar claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, 50% said they agreed with that statement, and 44% said they did not.

But for most Americans, finding a way forward in Iraq apparently seems daunting enough without reopening arguments about the past -- half of those polled said they did not want Congress to hold hearings to investigate Bush’s prewar claims.

*

ronald.brownstein@latimes.com

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

*

Begin text of infobox

Bush’s plan

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of President Bush’s plan to send approximately 22,000 additional U.S. troops into Iraq?

Approve - 36%

Disapprove - 60%

Don’t know - 4%

*

Source: L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll

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Opinions on Iraq

Q: Do you think the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over?

*--* Yes No Don’t know Now 34% 62% 4% 12/06 40 56 4 6/06 41 54 5 1/06 42 53 5 1/05* 39 56 5 3/04* 48 45 7 11/03* 48 43 9

*--*

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the way President Bush is handling the situation in Iraq?

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans Approve strongly 18% 2% 13% 46% Approve somewhat 15 6 13 26 Disapprove somewhat 10 8 14 10 Disapprove strongly 55 82 57 17 Don’t know 2 2 3 1

*--*

Q: Who do you think can do a better job of handling the situation in Iraq: President Bush or the Democrats in Congress?

*--* x All Democrats Independents Republicans President Bush 34% 7% 26% 79% Democrats in Congress 43 75 39 12 Neither/Both 14 10 23 5 Don’t know 9 8 12 4

*--*

Q: Should U.S. troops leave Iraq or stay as long as it takes?

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans Withdraw right away 19% 27% 20% 6% Begin withdrawing 46 61 50 28 within the next year Stay for as long 30 10 25 64 as it takes Don’t know 5 2 5 2

*--*

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of President Bush’s plan to send approximately 22,000 additional U.S. troops into Iraq?

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans Approve strongly 22% 6% 17% 48% Approve somewhat 14 6 15 25 Disaprove somewhat 9 9 10 7 Disapprove strongly 51 77 52 18 Don’t know 4 2 6 2

*--*

Q: Do you agree or disagree with those who say that adding approximately 22,000 U.S. troops in Iraq will allow U.S. and Iraqi forces to defeat the insurgency and win the war?

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans Agree 34% 14% 30% 67% Disagree 60 82 64 27 Don’t know 6 4 6 6

*--*

*

Q: Should Congress attempt to prevent President Bush from sending more troops to Iraq by denying him funding for deployment or through some other legislative measure?

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans Prevent by 25% 41% 22% 9% refusing funding Prevent by other 26 35 30 11 legislative measure Do not prevent from 41 14 41 76 sending more troops Don’t know 8 10 7 4

*--*

Q: Do you think the U.S. has a moral obligation to help pay for the reconstruction of Iraq?

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans Yes 39% 42% 41% 34% No 55 49 55 59 Don’t know 6 9 4 7

*--*

Note: Numbers may not total 100% where more than one response was accepted or some answer categories are not shown.

*These polls were conducted by the Times Poll only.

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

How the poll was conducted: The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll contacted 1,344 adults nationwide by telephone Saturday through Tuesday. 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. The adult population was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and region. The margin of sampling error for all adults 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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Source: Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg polls


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