Poll: Country Divided Over Iraq

U.S. Missionary Robert Park sits in a car with his mother and father following his return to the U.S. at the to the Los Angeles International Airport on Saturday, Feb. 06, 2010. Park was detained in North Korea after crossing the border from China on Christmas Day. (AP Photo/David Zentz) AP Photo/David Zentz

The president's approval level remains below 50 percent, and Americans are still divided over the war in Iraq. They are paying attention to one of the summer's major news stories – the possible 2003 leak to reporters of the identity of CIA covert agent Valerie Plame. In fact, the story has captured a level of attention from the public similar to the early stages of political scandals such as Whitewater, the Democrats' 1996 fundraising and Iran Contra.

Forty-one percent of the public views this controversy as of great importance to the nation -- more than what was said about the Whitewater scandal in its early days, and about the same as was measured for Iran-Contra in the spring of 1987 and the campaign fundraising scandal. But compared to how Americans felt about Watergate in 1973, fewer today see this issue as of great importance.

IMPORTANCE TO THE NATION

Great
Plame leak (8/2005)
41%
Fundraising (3/1997)
40%
Whitewater (4/1994)
16%
Iran-Contra (5/1987)
42%
Watergate (5/1973)*
53%

Some
Plame leak
39%
Fundraising
38%
Whitewater
32%
Iran-Contra
35%
Watergate
25%

Very little/none
Plame leak
16%
Fundraising
21%
Whitewater
48%
Iran-Contra
23%
Watergate
22%

*Gallup

Views on the issue's relevance to the nation are highly partisan. Fifty-two percent of Democrats think the matter is of great importance, compared to 31 percent of Republicans. The inverse was true during the Whitewater scandal and during the scandal involving 1996 campaign contributions -- then, more Republicans than Democrats felt the issue was of great importance.

Democrats are also more critical than Republicans of the administration's honesty in the matter, more convinced of its involvement and more apt to see that involvement as part of a broad effort to discredit critics.

But Americans remain focused on the set of issues that have been at the top of their minds for months -- the war in Iraq, the economy and jobs, and terrorism. These three issues rank at the top of the list of important issues facing the country.

MOST IMPORTANT PROBLEM

War in Iraq
19%
Economy/jobs
14%
Terrorism
12%

Views on the economy have improved slightly since June; 57 percent think the economy is in good shape. But views on Iraq remain negative, as they have been for months.

THE PLAME INVESTIGATION

Americans are skeptical about the Bush administration's behavior and public statements about the 2003 leak of the name of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame to reporters. Only 12 percent think the Bush administration is telling the entire truth about the matter; more than half –- 55 percent -- think the administration is mostly telling the truth but hiding something, and another 22 percent think it is lying.

REGARDING LEAK, BUSH ADMINISTRATION IS

Telling entire truth - All
12%
Hiding something - All
55%
Mostly lying - All
22%

Many Republicans doubt the administration is telling all it knows to the public. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans think the administration is hiding something or lying -- although 28 percent think it is telling the entire truth. Democrats are much more skeptical.

In previous polls, a majority of the public also felt the Bush administration was withholding information about the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal and the Enron collapse.

As for responsibility for the leak, just over half of Americans think it was someone in the Bush administration. Twenty-one percent think it was not someone in the administration. However, about a quarter don't know.

DID SOMEONE IN BUSH ADMINISTRATION LEAK NAME?
Yes – All
52%
Yes – Reps.
29%
Yes – Dems
64%


No – All
21%
No – Reps.
37%
No – Dems
13%


Don't know – All
27%
Don't know – Reps.
34%
Don't know – Dems
23%

Once again, views on this are highly partisan. Twenty-nine percent of Republicans think the Bush administration was responsible for the leak, compared to 64 percent of Democrats.

Twenty-nine percent of Americans think the leak was part of a wider effort by the Bush administration to discredit its critics. Eighteen percent think the leak was an isolated incident or mistake.

On this question as well, Democrats are more apt to view the administration's activities in a negative light.

Independents look similar to Democrats, with one-third of them saying the leak was part of a wider effort, but one-fourth also don't know if the administration leaked the name or not.

Over half of Americans say they have heard or read at least some about this issue. Those who have heard or read a lot about the matter are more apt to think the administration was involved, and to view the administration's actions as part of a larger effort. Democrats (19 percent) are about as likely as Republicans (17 percent) to have heard or read a lot about the issue. Men are more apt than women to have heard a lot, as are those over age 45 and those with more education.

HEARD OR READ ABOUT POSSIBLE PLAME LEAK

A lot
8%
Unfavorable
16%
Undecided/haven't heard
75%

Rove has said that he spoke with reporters about Valerie Plame but that he did not refer to her by name. The public is not sure whether Rove's actions broke any laws. Nearly four in 10 Americans believe Rove did something either unethical or illegal in the Plame case –- with most of those saying his actions were unethical, not illegal. Twenty-seven percent think he did nothing wrong, while 34 percent aren't sure.

KARL ROVE'S ACTIONS IN PLAME CASE WERE:

Unethical
34%
Not worth it
59%

Removing Saddam from power
Worth it
45%
Not worth it
47%

Americans are more likely to say removing Saddam Hussein was worth it; 45 percent think it was, but 47 percent say it was not.

One-third still believes Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States, but 53 percent say he was not. In 2003, during the early months of the war, more Americans were convinced Saddam was involved in 9/11, but by 2004 that dropped close to the level it is now, and has remained there.

Forty-eight percent now think things are going well for the United States in Iraq, while half say things are going badly. These assessments are slightly improved from July, when 54 percent said things were going badly for the United States.

HOW ARE THINGS GOING NOW FOR THE UNITED STATES IN IRAQ?

Now
Well
48%
Badly
50%

July 2005
Well
44%
Badly
54%

Views on other questions about the war in Iraq are unchanged since July. Americans remain divided over whether taking military action in Iraq was the right thing to do, and most, 64 percent, think it is likely that the United States will succeed in Iraq.

Looking ahead, 46 percent want the United States to decrease the number of troops in Iraq; 31 percent think the troop levels should be kept the same, and just 15 percent say the number of U.S. troops should be increased. Two-thirds of those who don't think the United States will succeed in Iraq want the troop level to be decreased, while those who feel the United States is likely to succeed there are more willing to keep troop levels the same or even increase them.

Many, 41 percent, think the war in Iraq has made it harder for al Qaeda to launch new terrorist attacks, while 36 percent say the war did not have much impact in this regard. But 16 percent, almost three times as many as two years ago, now say the Iraq war has made it easier for al Qaeda to launch terrorist attacks.

IRAQ WAR'S IMPACT ON AL QAEDA'S ABILITY TO LAUNCH NEW ATTACKS

Now
Made it harder
41%
Made it easier
16%
No impact
36%

May 2003
Made it harder
48%
Made it easier
6%
No impact
42%

In addition, 45 percent believe the war in Iraq has actually increased the threat of terrorism against the United States; 39 percent say it has had no effect and just 14 percent say the war in Iraq has decreased the terrorist threat against the United States.

HOW HAS IRAQ WAR AFFECTED TERROR THREAT AGAINST UNITED STATES

Increased it
45%
Decreased it
14%
Stayed the same
39%

Just over half view Iraq as part of the broader war on terror, a slight increase from the 46 percent who said so in July. Forty-six percent now say Iraq is separate from the war on terrorism. In April 2003, after U.S. troops took control of Baghdad, two-thirds viewed the war in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism.

CONCERNS ABOUT TERRORIST ATTACKS

Over two-thirds of Americans are confident that the U.S. government will be able to protect its citizens from future terrorist attacks, but confidence levels have declined over time. Just over a year ago, three-quarters were confident. Immediately after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, nine in ten had confidence. The percentage who do not have confidence has risen to 30 percent, up from 24 percent in April 2004 and nearly three times as many as just after the September 11th attacks.

Nine in ten Republicans are confident that the government will be able to protect U.S. citizens from terrorist attacks, compared with 54 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Independents.

Sixty-one percent think it is likely that there will be another terrorist attack on the United States within the next few months; 36 percent think that is unlikely. On a broader scale, two in five say the United States and its allies are winning the war against terrorism, although nearly as many say neither side is winning and fewer than one in five say the terrorists are winning. Despite recent terrorist attacks in London, these views have not changed since January.

THE ECONOMY

Fifty-seven percent now rate the nation's economy as very or fairly good -- up slightly since June. Forty-two percent think the economy is in bad shape. Still, the public expresses concern; 32 percent think the economy is getting worse, while fewer, 20 percent, think it is improving.

RATING THE ECONOMY

Now
Good
57%
Bad
42%

June 2005
Good
54%
Bad
45%

February 2005
Good
57%
Bad
42%

GEORGE W. BUSH

Views of President George W. Bush have remained stable in the past month and even improved since June. In this poll, 45 percent approve of the job he is doing as president, unchanged since last month but higher than his 42 percent approval in June.

Bush's ratings on handling specific issues are mostly unchanged from last month. As has been the case, handling terrorism remains the president's strongest issue, with a 55 percent approval rating, while his handling of Social Security is his weakest issue, on which he receives only a 29 percent approval rating.

BUSH'S JOB APPROVALS

Overall – now
45%
Overall – July
45%

Campaign against terrorism – now
55%
Campaign against terrorism – July
54%

The economy – now
42%
The economy - July
40%

Foreign policy – now
42%
Foreign policy – June
39%

War in Iraq – now
41%
War in Iraq - July
39%

Social Security - now
29%
Social Security – June
25%



This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1222 adults, interviewed by telephone July 29-August 2, 2005. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on all adults. Error for subgroups is higher.

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


  • Sean Alfano

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