Poll: Americans Say Use More Force

A U.S. Marine vehicle guards the rear of a convoy of supplies trucks heading north on the road to Baghdad, near the city of Ad Diwaniyah, central Iraq, Friday, March 28, 2003. AP

Americans think the war in Iraq has brought some surprises, most notably that the U.S. underestimated the Iraqi resistance. Yet while two-thirds now believe that victory will take many months, not a few weeks, the overwhelming majority nonetheless still believes the war is going well. In fact, increasing numbers now want the U.S. military to use even more force against Iraq.

55 percent believe the U.S. underestimated the resistance they would find from the Iraqi army; 37 percent say the U.S. correctly assessed how much resistance there would be.

U.S. ASSESSMENT OF IRAQI RESISTANCE
Accurate
37%
Underestimate
55%

As the conflict -- and Iraqi resistance -- continues, more and more Americans say they want the U.S. to increase the amount of force it is using. Nearly half now say that should be the U.S. military's response -- up from just 20 percent less than a week ago.

U.S. MILITARY'S USE OF FORCE IN IRAQ

Right amount:
Now
37%
3/23-24
50%
3/22
58%


Support for using more force has increased among both men and women, but the sexes continue to think differently about this: 54 percent of men, but just 42 percent of women say the U.S. should use more force in Iraq.

In this regard, Americans' reaction to the Iraq war appears much like their reaction in the early days of the Vietnam War. In each of four Gallup polls conducted between August 1966 and August 1967, majorities of Americans asked a somewhat different question said that the U.S. should use more force in the Vietnam conflict, while less than one in five in each poll said the U.S. should carry on the level of force it was using.

TIMELINE FOR THE IRAQ WAR

Thinking about the timeline of the Iraq conflict, half of Americans now envision a long and costly war. In the opening two days of the war, this sentiment was nearly the reverse: then, 62 percent described their outlook for the war as quick and successful. But that expectation now appears to have been a brief burst of optimism as coalition forces raced, nearly unchallenged, toward Baghdad. Today's numbers more closely resemble the outlook that Americans had before fighting started.

WAR WILL BE…

Quick and successful:
Now
41%
3/23-24
49%
3/20-21
62%
3/4-5
43%

Long and costly:
Now
50%
3/23-24
47%
3/20-21
33%
3/4-5
50%

Asked to describe a specific timeline for the war, two-thirds now put it at months, not weeks. After the first two days of the war, a majority -- 53 percent -- said the war would take just weeks, but that figure has dropped precipitously over the last few days, and now just 27 percent think the war will be over in such a short time.

HOW LONG WILL WAR LAST?

Few weeks:
Now
27%
3/24
34%
3/23
42%
3/22
53%

Many months:
Now
66%
3/24
62%
3/23
53%
3/22
40%

Although overall approval remains high, most Americans -- seven in ten -- have been surprised by something that has happened in the war. In a question that offered respondents the opportunity to answer in their own words, some volunteered they had been surprised by the resistance offered by the Iraqis; others said it was Iraqi tactics. Other commonly expressed answers were the length of the war, the capture of coalition prisoners of war and the nature of the media coverage. Just 14 percent said nothing about what had taken place surprised them.

WHAT SURPRISED YOU MOST ABOUT THE WAR?

Iraqi resistance
10%
Longer time war is taking
8%
Unfair Iraqi tactics
7%
Media coverage
6%
U.S. POWs
5%

ASSESSING THE WAR

Though the hope of quick victory is gone, Americans still think the war is going well. This is largely unchanged from earlier this week.

HOW IS THE WAR GOING?

Very well:
Now
34%
3/23-24
39%

Somewhat well:
Now
51%
3/23-24
47%

Somewhat badly:
Now
9%
3/23-24
8%

Very badly:
Now
3%
3/23-24
2%

And relative to their own expectations, Americans do not describe the war as going worse than expected, despite the belief that it will take longer. Just 20 percent say the war is going worse than expected, and 61 percent say it is going the way they expected.

The same is true for Americans' read on how the Pentagon has reacted to the first week of war. Most think the war is going pretty much as the U.S.' military planners expected. One-quarter say the Pentagon is viewing the situation as worse than expected.

APPROVAL FOR THE WAR

Overall, Americans continue to approve of U.S. military action against Iraq -- in this poll 77 percent approve, while 19 percent disapprove. Those figures have changed hardly at all since the war began, and remain somewhat higher than they were before the start of war.

MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAQ

Approve
77%
Disapprove
19%

Looking back at a week of fighting, most Americans believe the U.S. did the right thing by getting involved in the conflict, while one-quarter think the U.S. should have stayed out.

DID U.S. DO THE RIGHT THING – OR SHOULD IT HAVE STAYED OUT?

Did the right thing
69%
Should have stayed out
25%

And Americans increasingly say they are proud of the U.S.' efforts in Iraq. Three in four Americans say they are proud. This is even more the case among Americans with family members serving in the military: over four out of five of them express pride.

ARE YOU PROUD OF WHAT THE U.S. IS DOING IN IRAQ?

Yes:
Now
73%
3/23-24
67%
3/20-21
64%


Most Americans do see the Iraq conflict as a part of the war on terror, but nearly one-third see it as a separate act.

IS WAR WITH IRAQ PART OF WAR ON TERRORISM, OR SEPARATE?

Part of war on terror
63%
Separate
31%

Both of these groups approve of U.S.' military action, but there are sharp differences in the levels of that support. Almost all of those who see the Iraq conflict as part of the war on terror approve of action, while just half of those who see the conflict as separate approve of action.

When it comes to paying for the war, a majority of Americans – 53 percent -think the Bush Administration has not yet explained what the war will cost. Yet this figure has come down quite a bit from the two-thirds who said this earlier in the week, before the President asked Congress for a specific funding amount for the war. Also, 47 percent say they would not be willing to have domestic programs cut to pay for the Iraq war.

REMOVING SADDAM – IS IT WORTH IT?

Asked if removing Saddam Hussein is worth the potential -- and now real -- costs of war, including the loss of life, 62 percent of Americans say that it is. 28 percent say it is not.

However, there are sharp differences that depend on how Americans assess the war. Those who expect a quick war are much more likely to say removing Saddam will be worth the cost, as are those who believe the U.S. correctly estimated the Iraqi resistance. But the biggest difference hinges on Americans' outlook on the Iraq war vis-à-vis the war on terror. Those who see Iraq as part of the larger war on terror overwhelmingly think removing Saddam is worth it; those who see the conflict as separate overwhelming do not see removing the dictator as worth the costs.

IS REMOVING SADDAM WORTH THE COSTS?

Total
Yes
62%
No
28%

Men:
Yes
68%
No
22%

Women:
Yes
55%
No
34%

Republicans:
Yes
83%
No
10%

Democrats:
Yes
43%
No
47%

Think Iraq is part of war on terror:
Yes
76%
No
15%

Think Iraq is not part of war on terror:
Yes
34%
No
57%

Expect a quick war:
Yes
74%
No
18%

Expect a long war:
Yes
50%
No
38%

Think U.S. correctly estimated Iraqi army:
Yes
79%
No
15%

Think U.S. underestimated Iraqi army:
Yes
51%
No
37%

ANTI-WAR PROTESTS

Most Americans acknowledge the rights of their countrymen to demonstrate against the war and to criticize the president, but there are signs that this tolerance is decreasing slightly. In a poll conducted earlier this week, 61 percent thought Americans who oppose the war ought to be able to hold protest marches; that has dropped somewhat to 57 percent in this poll. But tolerance for protests is not as low as it was in 1991, during the Persian Gulf War; then, less than half – 44 percent -- thought protest marches ought to be allowed.

ALLOW ANTI-WAR PROTEST MARCHES?

Yes:
Now
57%
3/23-24
61%
1/20/91
44%

No, they hurt war effort:
Now
32%
3/23-24
29%
1/20/91
42%


And although a majority of Americans still think it is acceptable to criticize the President's military decisions these days, there is also decreasing tolerance for this behavior. Now, 54 percent think it is okay to criticize Bush's decisions on military issues, and 41 percent think that type of talk is not acceptable. In February, 62 percent thought such behavior was okay.

OKAY TO CRITICIZE PRESIDENT ON MILITARY ISSUES?

Yes:
Now
54%
2/03
62%
10/01
41%

No:
Now
41%
2/03
34%
10/01
54%


Current views about criticizing the president are not as harsh as views expressed in October 2001, just after the U.S. attack against Afghanistan. Then, most Americans objected to criticism of George W. Bush's military decisions.

THE PRESIDENT

George W. Bush's approval ratings have not changed much since early in the week. In this poll, 68 percent approve of the overall job the president is doing, and 69 percent approve of the way he is handling the war against Iraq.

Most Americans have faith in the leadership of their commander-in-chief; 49 percent have a lot of confidence in George W. Bush's ability to make the right decisions about the war with Iraq, and another 25 percent have some confidence. But 23 percent have little or no confidence in his judgment about this war.

CONFIDENCE IN BUSH'S DECISIONS ABOUT IRAQ

A lot
49%
Some
25%
Not much/none
23%

Men (56 percent) are more likely than women (43 percent) to have a lot of confidence in the president's decisions about this war.


NEWS OF THE WAR

Nearly all Americans – 93 percent -- are paying close attention to the news from Iraq. While just under half think the media has spent the right amount of time on the story, nearly as many think there has been too much war coverage.

AMOUNT OF WAR COVERAGE IN MEDIA

Too much
46%
Too little
2%
Right amount
48%

For the first time, large numbers of journalists -- called "embedded reporters" -– have been allowed to travel with the troops, and the public gives this coverage a thumbs up. 57 percent think this is a good idea, and 54 percent believe these embedded reporters are portraying the war accurately. But 24 percent believe the embedded reporters make it look as though the war is going better than it really is, and 9 percent think the reports are making the war look worse.

EMBEDDED REPORTERS ARE…?

Good idea
57%
Bad idea
35%

EMBEDDED REPORTERS PORTRAY THE WAR …

Accurately
54%
As going better than it is
24%
As going worse than it is
9%

Those who are following news of the war very closely are especially enthusiastic about the embedded reporters, and are even more likely to think those reporters' stories portray the war accurately.

In the early days of the war more than half of Americans were changing their sleeping schedule to watch news of the war, but fewer are doing so now. Just under one in three report they are either staying up late or getting up early to catch the latest war news.

Anxiety about the war has held steady, with about one in four reporting the war has made them feel nervous or edgy. Women (37 percent) are twice as likely as men (18 percent) to say they feel this way.

FEELING NERVOUS OR EDGY ABOUT WAR?

Yes:
All
28%
Men
18%
Women
37%

No:
All
70%
Men
80%
Women
61%




This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 868 adults, interviewed by telephone March 26-27, 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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