Polls Show Decline In Support for War
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JIM LEHRER: How do Americans view the war in Iraq now? That question is the basis of a new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Andrew Kohut is the center’s director.
What did you find about general support for the war now?
ANDREW KOHUT: It’s declining.
There’s less support for the war. The public is more pessimistic that we’re going to achieve our goals. There are greater calls for getting our troops out. And people look at the situation over the past few months, and they say, things aren’t going well.
In January, 51 percent said things are going pretty well in Iraq, not a great rating, but now it’s 43 percent. Consequently, we have more people saying we have to get our troops out now, and more people saying what they hadn’t been saying, which is, we may not succeed. We now have only 49 percent — I think we have a graphic.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Let’s put the graphic up here. Magic. There we go.
KOHUT: Only 49 percent saying we’re going to achieve our goals. It was as high as 60 percent a year ago. Even when we were struggling, people have been reluctant to think that Iraq would turn out like Vietnam, a failure for the United States.
And, still, you know, with 49 percent, there are many people who want — who are hoping that we’re going to succeed. But that hope is quickly turning sour.
JIM LEHRER: Now, you asked them, also, if they felt that President Bush had a plan for achieving success. What did you find there?
KOHUT: Well, we have been putting out a lot of negative numbers about President Bush, but this is the most negative. Seventy percent say the president does not have a clear plan to succeed in — in Iraq. And that’s about as high as that has been.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: What — can you break it down, in terms of Republicans vs. Democrats, on — on — in a general way, or specific, any way you would like to do it?
KOHUT: Boy, that is the right question, because what we have — we don’t have one public opinion about the war in Iraq, as we did back in Vietnam. We have two, if not three.
Seventy-eight percent of Republicans think we made the right decision. Twenty-six percent of Democrats think we made the right decision.
JIM LEHRER: You mean to go in there in the first place?
KOHUT: In the first place.
JIM LEHRER: Oh, I see. OK.
KOHUT: And all of the other indicators show this huge gap, with Republicans saying, the situation — 69 percent of Republicans saying the situation — the war is going well, 29 percent of Democrats saying the war is going well. They’re looking at the same war.
Not only do they have different judgments about the war; they see different realities. And, Jim, when I looked at the — the polling from Vietnam, we saw the same erosion of support over time. It happened — it took a longer time to happen in the ’60s, but Republicans and Democrats, independents, all moved to the same conclusion.
We don’t have that situation. We should — if we want to reflect the public opinion about Iraq, we almost have to talk about the three publics…
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
KOHUT: … or, at minimum, the two publics, Republicans vs. the rest, because the independents are beginning to come the way of the Democrats.
JIM LEHRER: So, in a nutshell, Iraq has become a partisan issue, is what you are saying.
KOHUT: It has been a partisan issue from…
JIM LEHRER: From the beginning?
KOHUT: … from — from the very beginning. But what has happened is, the independents are beginning to look at this the — much the way the Democrats have.
And what really is taking the toll here is the Iraqi casualties. Increasing numbers of people say…
JIM LEHRER: U.S. casualties in Iraq?
KOHUT: Iraqi casualties in Iraq. People see civil war. Eighty percent…
JIM LEHRER: Oh, I’m sorry. Right.
KOHUT: Eighty percent in the AP poll released this week say a civil war is likely. In our poll, the percentage of people saying we’re losing ground on preventing a civil war — war — rose from 45 percent a month ago to 66 percent.
I mean, the Americans are confronted with 50 people die here, 40 people die here.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
KOHUT: And it’s not Americans. It’s Iraqis against Iraqis.
JIM LEHRER: Now, just for the record, how many people were polled in your poll?
KOHUT: This is a survey of 1,500 people. And we did it last weekend.
JIM LEHRER: Last weekend.
KOHUT: That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: OK. And you — they — they pretty well jibe with the other recent polls by other organizations?
KOHUT: All of the — all of the polls pretty much show the same thing. If anything, our polls show a little more support. Our questions are, did we make a right decision or the wrong decision?
Other polls say, did we make a mistake? And they get higher numbers. But they all show the same trend, which is disillusionment. We said to people, come up — at the very first question, give us one word that comes to mind when you think of Iraq. And the word they most often said was a mess or…
JIM LEHRER: OK. Andy Kohut, thank you very much.
KOHUT: You’re welcome.