Poll: Americans More Optimistic Now

Tom Hueston of Albuquerque, N.M., a supporter of U.S. troops serving in Iraq and elsewhere around the world, raises his fist concluding the playing of the national anthem at a "Support Our Troops" rally held at the New Mexico Veteran's memorial in Albuquerque, N.M., Sunday, April 13, 2003. AP

Americans know there is more work -- both military and humanitarian -- to do in Iraq; only a quarter thinks the fighting is essentially over, and most believe the U.S. has a responsibility both to police the streets and to set up a new government. But they don't want the U.S. to undertake the rebuilding of Iraq alone. That is a global responsibility.

Although they see U.S. relations with the rest of the world as having deteriorated in recent years, the public is now more optimistic about the state of the U.S. than they have been in more than a year, and gives the President his highest approval rating since July.

One major reason for that optimism is the link that Americans have made between Iraq and international terrorism, including the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. With the military successes in Iraq comes a belief that the United States may finally be winning the war against terrorism -- the first time a majority of Americans have thought this.

WHO'S WINNING THE WAR AGAINST TERROR?
U.S. and its allies:
Now
62%
3/03
45%
1/03
32%
10/02
34%

Terrorists:
Now
7%
3/03
14%
1/03
17%
10/02
14%

Neither side:
Now
25%
3/03
34%
1/03
44%
10/02
47%

WHAT LIES AHEAD IN IRAQ?
While the fighting and searching for weapons of mass destruction continues in Iraq, Americans think the U.S. military has some responsibility to police the newly liberated cities of Iraq. 66 percent of Americans think the U.S. military should be taking on the role of keeping order in Baghdad, and 27 percent say the military should not, and should concentrate on military engagements instead.

SHOULD THE U.S. TROOPS KEEP ORDER IN BAGHDAD?
Yes, should keep order
66%
No, should concentrate on military battles
27%

The war, however, has not ended in the eyes of most Americans. 73 percent think more fighting is still to come, as the Pentagon said repeatedly last week, although this includes 46 percent who think those engagements will be minor skirmishes instead of major battles. 25 percent say the fighting is basically over except for a few isolated attacks.

IS MORE FIGHTING AHEAD? -- THE U.S. WILL STILL FACE...
Major battles
27%
Minor skirmishes
46%
A few attacks, but fighting is basically over
25%

AFTER THE WAR
Americans think there will be work for the U.S. in Iraq even after the war is over. 55 percent say that the U.S. has a responsibility to help set up the new government in Iraq after the war. This feeling is slightly higher - 59 percent - among those who support the war.

DOES U.S. HAVE RESPONSIBILITY TO SET UP NEW IRAQI GOVERNMENT?
Yes
55%
No
39%

But the public does not think this is a job the U.S. should take on by itself. Americans want the world to share in that responsibility, and think the U.S. should begin by listening to the views of other nations. A large majority of Americans -- 69 percent -- think that the U.S. should take the views of other countries into account when it comes to deciding how to rebuild Iraq. Just over one-quarter say the U.S. should do whatever it thinks is right no matter what other countries think.

REBUILDING IRAQ: SHOULD U.S. LISTEN TO VIEWS OF OTHER COUNTRIES?
Yes
69%
No
27%

Large majorities say it is the United Nations, not the United States, that should play the lead role in setting up the new government in Iraq and in rebuilding its economy. This echoes the desire for international involvement that Americans expressed before the war, when a majority wanted international involvement and approval for the military action before it started.

WHO SHOULD HAVE THE LEAD ROLE IN...

Setting up new Iraqi government?
United States
34%
United Nations
61%

Rebuilding the Iraqi economy?
United States
29%
United Nations
66%

Americans want to involve other nations, and not just the U.N. When asked the same questions about the potential involvement of an unspecified "international coalition," Americans' feelings are the same: 66 percent say an international coalition should take the lead in forming an Iraqi government, and 70 percent say a coalition should take the lead instead of the U.S. in rebuilding the Iraqi economy.

But Americans are dubious about the Bush Administration's planning for rebuilding Iraq. 45 percent say it has not developed a clear plan for doing so yet, and 42 percent say it has.

DOES BUSH ADMINISTRATION HAVE A PLAN FOR REBUILDING IRAQ?
Yes
42%
No
45%

But most Americans are certain that the U.S. is making enough effort to provide humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people. 68 percent say the U.S. doing all it should, while just 16 percent say it is not doing enough.

HUMANITARIAN AID: THE U.S. IS...
Doing what it should
68%
Not providing enough
16%
Providing too much
9%

Whatever the role for the U.S., Americans see a long involvement for the troops. 76 percent of Americans think U.S. troops will have to stay in Iraq at least another six months -- including 46 percent who think it will be more than one year.

HOW LONG WILL U.S. TROOPS STAY IN IRAQ?
Less than six more months
20%
Six months to one year
30%
More than one year
46%

LOOKING AHEAD: U.S. MILITARY POLICY BEYOND IRAQ
There are more now who favor U.S. intervention in cases like Iraq's than there were at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. 48 percent think the U.S. should stay out of other countries, but 29 percent think it ought to try to change a dictatorship to a democracy where it can.

SHOULD U.S.:

Stay out of other countries
Now
48%
3/1991
60%

Try to change dictatorships
Now
29%
3/1991
17%

In 1991, a clear majority preferred the U.S. stay out of other countries' affairs, and only 17 percent supported U.S. intervention.

There are mixed views on whether the U.S. ought to become a global policeman. 48 percent believe the U.S. should take the lead in trying to solve international conflicts, but nearly as many - 43 percent -- think it should not.

SHOULD U.S. TAKE LEAD IN SOLVING INTERNATIONAL CONFLICTS?
Yes
48%
No
43%

There are sizable gender differences on this question. By 59 percent to 36 percent, men support the U.S. taking on this role. Women, however, are opposed to it by 50 percent to 39 percent.

Views of what to do in the world are currently shaped by events in Iraq. In principle, there is support for pre-emptive military action as a policy. 47 percent think the U.S. should attack any other country that it thinks might attack the U.S. first; 40 percent think it ought to wait until it is attacked before taking military action. That represents a slight shift since last fall, when opinion was more evenly divided.

VIEWS ON PRE-EMPTIVE MILITARY ACTION

U.S. should attack country it thinks might attack:
Now
47%
10/02
43%

U.S. should not attack unless attacked first:
Now
40%
10/02
44%

But this support for pre-emptive action may be mostly support for the pre-emptive action in Iraq. When Americans are asked explicitly about a policy of pre-emption after the war with Iraq, support for pre-emption drops drastically. After the war with Iraq, 51 percent think the U.S. should not attack unless attacked first, while 38 percent think the U.S. should attack another country it suspects will attack it.

FUTURE PRE-EMPTIVE MILITARY ATTACK AFTER IRAQ
U.S. should attack country it thinks might attack
38%
U.S. should not attack unless attacked first
51%

Americans think that the U.S.-led coalition's success in Iraq could lead to other military engagements elsewhere in the world. 31 percent think this is very likely to happen, and another 49 percent think it is somewhat likely.

LIKELIHOOD SUCCESS IN IRAQ WILL LEAD TO MORE MILITARY ACTION
Very likely
31%
Somewhat likely
49%
Not likely
16%

However, Americans don't expect U.S. military action against several specific countries. 18 percent think it is very likely the U.S. will take action against North Korea, and another 42 percent think that is somewhat likely. 21 percent see military action against Syria as very likely, with 37 percent thinking that is somewhat likely. 17 percent think it likely that action will be taken against Iran, with another 33 percent stating this is somewhat likely.

The threat from North Korea is the most real to Americans. Two thirds say there is at least one other country that poses a serious threat to the U.S., and they volunteer North Korea as the greatest threat (named by 39 percent), followed by China (6 percent), Syria (5 percent) and Iraq (5 percent).

WHICH COUNTRY REPRESENTS THE GREATEST THREAT TO U.S.?
North Korea
39%
China
6%
Syria
5%
Iraq
5%
No country
24%

When asked specifically about the threat from North Korea's development of nuclear weapons, an overwhelming majority of Americans don't see a need for immediate military action in response to it. Seven in ten Americans say North Korea is a threat, but one that can be contained with weapons inspections for now. Just one in ten believe the situation with North Korea requires military action right now. These views are virtually unchanged since February.

NORTH KOREA'S DEVELOPMENT OF WEAPONS IS:

A threat that requires action now:
Now
11%
2/03
12%

A threat that can be detained:
Now
69%
2/03
67%

Not a threat:
Now
14%
2/03
11%

LOOKING BACK: ASSESSING THE WAR IN IRAQ SO FAR
The number of Americans who approve of using military force to remove Saddam has held steady over the course of the war.

APPROVE OR DISAPPROVE OF MILITARY ACTION?

Approve
Now
78%
4/2-3
78%
3/23-24
78%

Disapprove
Now
19%
4/2-3
17%
3/23-24
20%

And the number of Americans who feel that removing Saddam is worth the cost of American life is still high, though this figure has dropped slightly over the past week as coalition deaths rose.

IS REMOVING SADDAM WORTH THE LOSS OF LIFE?

Yes
Now
64%
4/2-3
68%
3/23-24
65%

No
Now
29%
4/2-3
22%
3/23-24
28%

There has been a sharp reversal in how Americans view the military plan for the war in Iraq. 59 percent of Americans now think the U.S. correctly estimated the opposition it would face from the Iraqi forces. Earlier in the war, when the U.S. military was encountering unexpected resistance, 55 percent of Americans said that the U.S. had underestimated the Iraqis.

DID THE U.S. CORRECTLY ESTIMATE IRAQI RESISTANCE?

Yes
Now
59%
3/26-27
37%

No, it underestimated Iraqis
Now
31%
3/26-27
55%

No, it overestimated Iraqis
Now
6%
3/26-27
1%

Americans continue to believe that Iraq was a threat that required immediate military action. Those assessments have held steady through the war and are even higher than they were before fighting began. 58 percent now say the threat required military action; before the war, 44 percent said so.

IRAQ WAS...

A threat that required action now
Now
58%
3/23-24
60%
2/24-25
44%

A threat that could have been contained
Now
32%
3/23-24
31%
2/24-25
47%

Not a threat
Now
8%
3/23-24
7%
2/24-25
5%

There have been fewer U.S. casualties than Americans had expected. 44 percent say the number has been lower than they had envisioned while only 12 percent say there have been more.

As for Iraqi civilian casualties, many Americans are uncertain about how many there have been. But 23 percent say the number has been fewer than they expected, and 19 percent say there have been about as many as they expected.

Americans see one major success for the war: they believe that most Iraqi people are happy about the fall of Saddam, not apprehensive about the presence of U.S. troops in their country. 79 percent of Americans think the Iraqi people are mostly glad to be rid of Saddam, while just 8 percent sense that the Iraqis are mostly resentful of what they might see as a U.S. occupation. A smaller majority thinks there is joy throughout the rest of the Arab world, however. 52 percent say the Arab world is mostly glad to have Saddam gone, but 35 percent suspect that the Arab world mostly resents the U.S. action.

HUNTING FOR SADDAM AND FOR WEAPONS
Americans are not sure whether the U.S. has achieved enough of its objectives to declare victory in Iraq now, but that evaluation seems to hinge more on finding Saddam than on finding a cache of deadly weapons. 60 percent are ready to consider the war a victory even if the U.S. never turns up any weapons of mass destruction. Half say the U.S. will have won even if Saddam's whereabouts remain a mystery; 42 percent say it will not.

WILL THE U.S. WIN THE WAR IF...?

Saddam is never captured or proven killed?
Yes
51%
No
42%

The U.S. never finds any weapons of mass destruction?
Yes
60%
No
29%

And though Americans increasingly doubt that Saddam has survived the U.S. onslaught, most still suspect the former dictator is still alive somewhere.

SADDAM: ALIVE OR DEAD?

Alive
Now
57%
Last week
65%

Dead
Now
29%
Last week
23%

Most Americans believe that weapons of mass destruction are still hidden somewhere in Iraq, and that the U.S. has not uncovered them yet.

DOES IRAQ HAVE WMD THAT THE U.S. HASN'T FOUND YET?
Yes
81%
No
12%

Asked the reason why no discoveries have been made, half of Americans who think that Iraq does have weapons believe that the stash is simply too well hidden to have been found yet. One-third, though, suspect those weapons have already been sent outside of Iraq.

The Bush Administration said this week that they are not overly concerned about the fate or whereabouts of Saddam Hussein. In this poll, Americans are now less likely to believe that President Bush's main motivation in the war was simply to remove Saddam. 36 percent think that Hussein was Bush's main focus. Before the war began, 45 percent said they thought Bush was most interested in ridding Iraq of Saddam.


Click here for part 2 of the poll.




This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 898 adults, interviewed by telephone April 11-13, 2003. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample.

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

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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