Poll Analysis: Americans Convinced by Powell U.N. Address Even If Member Nations Are Not

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Americans see the evidence presented by Secretary of State Colin Powell during his address to the United Nations last Tuesday as convincing proof of Iraqi non-compliance, according to the latest Los Angeles Times poll in which previous poll respondents were contacted again. President Bush’s job ratings took a jump upward in an atmosphere in which the U.S. has been put on heightened terror alert and Americans see war with Iraq as becoming ever more unavoidable. However, most continue to want the U.S. to take military action only in accord with the U.N. Security council.

This survey, in which respondents from a previous Times Poll survey taken shortly before Colin Powell’s presentation were called again over the Friday and Saturday following the Tuesday speech, found that nine out of 10 Americans were still following the news about Iraq at least somewhat closely and nearly eight in 10 were now resigned to the inevitability of war. Before Powell’s U.N. address, just under three in four felt that way.

The speech may not be the entire reason for changes in opinion from one poll to the next, of course. For example, during the time that elapsed between the first survey and the follow-up, the United States moved from a state of elevated terror alert to that of high terror alert. Americans are aware of the alert, and felt it is the result of their country’s actions—seven in 10 said they think the threat of terror against Americans has increased as a direct result of seeking support for military action against Iraq. There were only a small proportion who planned to take precautions, however—only one in 10 said they plan to avoid public places as a result of the heightened alert.

The survey revealed possible signs of a nascent wartime rally behind the president which just may correspond to a heightened sense of inevitability of war. George W. Bush’s job approval rating jumped nine percentage points from 52% before the speech to 61% after. The survey also found a six percentage point rise in approval of the way Bush is handling the situation with Iraq—from 54% last week to 60% today. The percentage of those who trust Bush to make the right decision about Iraq rose from 53% before to 57% today.

Just under six in 10 Americans said they would support a ground attack, should it occur, but a larger proportion (62%) said the U.S. should wait for the support of the U.N. Security Council before taking action. Over half (55%) would support the U.S. going into war with the support of a few allies such as Great Britain.

Women were generally not as supportive of war with Iraq as were men, and felt particularly strongly that the country should go to war only with the backing of the U.N. Security Council. Fifty-seven percent of women gave President Bush a thumbs up for how he is handling the situation with Iraq. Two-thirds of men, on the other hand, gave the president high marks for his handling of Iraq.

Just over half of women (53%) compared to almost two-thirds of men supported ground attacks, and two-thirds said the U.S. should act only in accord with the wishes of the U.N., compared to 56% of men who felt the same way. A plurality of women opposed going to war without approval of the U.N. but with the support of some allies like Great Britain, by 49% to 46%, while men supported military action in that case by 64% to 34%.

About two-thirds of Americans either watched or heard about Powell’s address to the United Nations Security Council in which the Secretary of State (to whom respondents gave a resounding 78% job approval rating) laid out the United States’ evidence that Saddam Hussein is hiding weapons of mass destruction and seeking to mislead U.N. weapons inspectors. Powell also presented evidence intended to prove that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has close ties with members of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

Security Council member nations did not immediately accept that the evidence Powell presented was irrefutable proof of Iraqi non-compliance, but he was successful in making that case to the American people. Three out of four of those who watched his speech said that the U.S. evidence proved Iraq is in violation of its agreements and is actively working to deceive weapons inspectors. Half agreed strongly. Seven out of ten also agreed that Powell presented sufficient proof that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction which include chemical and biological weapons, with 47% agreeing strongly.

A smaller proportion (roughly a two-out-of-three majority) of Americans saw the evidence linking Hussein with the Al Qaeda terrorist network as being of sufficient weight to prove the U.S. contention that Hussein must be stopped from supplying weapons to terrorists.

Generally speaking, Americans did not see this issue as being over any time soon. A small proportion (25%) think that the U.S. would prevail in less than a month against Iraq, but roughly a third said up to six months, and another three in 10 said it could take six months or more. In addition, about seven in 10 thought that the U.S. should stay in Iraq to help the country rebuild, including nearly four in ten who thought it would require a commitment of more than a year.

When told that some member nations of the U.N. Security Council have called for stepping up weapons inspections in Iraq before any military action is taken, three in 10 said that the U.S. should not wait, but should take immediate action instead. A third said we should wait a few weeks or even months, and roughly another two in ten said the U.S. should wait as long as it takes for weapons inspectors to finish their job. A six in 10 majority supported allowing Hussein to go into exile in exchange for peace with Iraq. However, roughly the same proportion said it is going to require military action rather than containment through a permanent inspection team in order to neutralize the risk that Hussein poses to the world.

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 Fri. and Sat. The sampling frame for the original study had been 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 for 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.