Americans Worry About Iraq

President Bush, Saddam Hussein over U.S. and Iraqi flags. AP / CBS

When it comes to dealing with Iraq, Americans have made their policy preferences clearly known, and those preferences have held rock-steady throughout the fall: Americans support action to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

More and more though, Americans think a war would hurt the economy and increase the threat of terrorism, a CBS News/New York Times poll finds. They want the U.S. to work with its allies and not act on its own on Iraq, and they want to give United Nations weapons inspectors time to act.

Americans embrace a multi-lateral approach to foreign policy in general as well as to the Iraq situation. Asked about general foreign policy, 68 percent said the U.S. should take into account the views of its allies even before doing what it thinks is right, rather than the U.S. doing what it thinks is right no matter what our allies think. Slightly fewer, but still a solid majority of 61 percent said this should also be the case when it comes to dealing with Iraq.

Even though it has been longer than the "days and weeks" President Bush said it should take for the U.N. to consider a new resolution for dealing with Iraq, Americans remain patient. Asked whether Iraq presents such a clear danger that the U.S. needs to act now, even if it means going it alone, or whether the U.S. needs to wait for such backing, 63 percent of Americans continued to say the U.S. should wait.

In the past month there has been almost no change in Americans' support for sending weapons inspectors into Iraq before taking military action. Sixty-three percent still think the U.S. needs to give U.N. inspectors time before taking military action.

IMPACT ON TERRORISM AND THE ECONOMY

Many Americans increasingly suspect that a war with Iraq would have negative consequences for the U.S. economy and the threat of terrorism. Fifty-nine percent now say military action would increase the threat, up from 50 percent in early October and 44 percent in September. As in past polls, few Americans feel military action would decrease the threat.

In increasing numbers, more Americans believe war would make the economy worse than believe war will improve it or have no impact. Forty-five percent think war will worsen the economy, up from 37 percent a month ago, while only 21 percent think war will make the economy better. Twenty-eight percent think a war would have no impact.

Over half of all Americans say they have paid close attention to the possibility of war with Iraq. Fifty-six percent say they have heard or read a lot about it. This figure, too, has held steady: three weeks ago, 58 percent said this.

Meanwhile, the announcement about North Korea's nuclear weapons program has garnered at least some attention from most Americans — though not nearly to the same degree as the situation with Iraq. Twenty-five percent say they have heard a lot about North Korea's announcement, while another 44 percent say they have heard something about it.

Despite the interest and concern about the situation in Iraq, it's not something most voters think is the important issue in the congressional campaigns. In fact, as the election approaches, 69 percent of Americans want the candidates to talk about the economy, rather then the possibility of war with Iraq.

And the majority — 59 percent — say they are more likely to vote for a congressional candidate because of the candidate's position on the economy, instead of their position on Iraq. Only 25 percent said a candidate's position on Iraq was more important than their ideas on the economy.

BUSH AND THE UNITED NATIONS

The majority of Americans believe that President Bush is trying to work with the United Nations to resolve the situation in Iraq. 64 percent say they believe that he is trying to do so. In the last month, the president has convinced Americans of his desire to work with the international body. In September just under half of Americans believed the President really wanted to work with the U.N. rather than having the U.S. make decisions on its own, today 64 percent think Bush is trying to work with the U.N.

A majority also believes the U.N. has tried to work with Bush: 53 percent think so, while 36 percent say the U.N. has not tried to work with him.

Still, military action seems inevitable to most Americans, though that feeling has diminished somewhat over the past two months. In September 78 percent thought the U.S. would end up fighting in Iraq, but today the number had dropped to 68 percent.

The general support for using military force to remove Saddam Hussein has remained very constant. Sixty-four percent in this poll favor the policy. Just over three weeks ago 67 percent favored it, and in August 66 percent did. Just as in previous polls, support drops off when respondents are asked to consider some negative potential consequences of a war, down as low as 42 percent if military action meant that the U.S. would become involved in a war lasting months or even years.

A large gender gap emerges in support for military action when Americans weigh the potential costs. While a majority of both men and women support military action, generally, 61 percent of men favor it even if it results in substantial U.S. casualties, while just 37 percent of women still support it in such a case. A majority of men still back action if it resulted in substantial Iraqi civilian casualties, while only 40 percent of women still do in that case.


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1018 adults, interviewed by telephone October 27-31, 2002. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. Sampling error for subgroups may be higher.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.

  • Brian Bernbaum

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