Poll: Losing Patience With The U.N.

GENERIC Bush Saddam Hussein UN weapons Iraq CBS/AP

Americans may be growing frustrated with the United Nations and its progress in conducting weapons inspections in Iraq. Although a majority of Americans still favor giving weapons inspectors more time, the figure is lower than seen in previous polls.

Support for U.S. military action remains high, though less than half believe the U.S. should move ahead if France, Russia or China uses its veto power to block a U.S.-sponsored resolution in the Security Council. But the public is skeptical of the U.N.'s ability to disarm Iraq. Most do not think Iraq is currently cooperating with weapons inspectors, and views of how the U.N. is handling the crisis have deteriorated.

THE CURRENT SITUATION

This poll was conducted after last week's presidential press conference and Friday's report by United Nations weapons inspectors. Since then, support for taking military action soon has risen nine points. 52% think the U.S. should give the U.N. and weapons inspectors more time, while 44% think the U.S. ought to take military action soon. Last week, 35% supported taking action soon, and 60% wanted to give weapons inspectors more time.

U.S. SHOULD:

Take military action soon:

Now
44%
Last Week
35%

Give Inspectors more time:

Now
52%
Last week
60%

At the same time, belief that Iraq poses an immediate threat to the U.S. has increased. Half see that country as a threat that requires military action now, up from 45% last week.

IRAQI THREAT:

Requires military action now:

Now
50%
Last week
45%

Can be contained:

Now
41%
Last week
43%

Not a threat:
Now
5%
Last Week
8%


SUPPORT FOR MILITARY ACTION

Americans prefer consultation with U.S. allies. 60% believe the U.S. needs to take into account the views of its allies before taking military action against Iraq. More than a third think the U.S. should do what it thinks is right no matter what its allies think.

SHOULD U.S.:

Take into account allies' views
60%
Do what it thinks is right
36%

But consultation may not necessarily mean doing what the allies – or the United Nations as a whole – wants. Two-thirds of the public approves of military action against Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power, about the same number as has supported action in every CBS News Poll conducted since last fall.

55% would still approve of military action against Iraq even if the U.N. did not support a U.S.-sponsored resolution to take such action.

MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAQ

Overall:

Approve
66%
Disapprove
30%

Without U.N. approval:

Approve
55%
Disapprove
41%


There are some variations in support among different demographic groups. Republicans (86%) are more likely than Democrats (51%) to support overall military action against Iraq; support for taking such action without U.N. approval drops to 42% among Democrats. Overall support for war is similar for men (69%) and women (64%), but falls to 50% among women if the U.N. does not approve. 40% of African-Americans approve of taking military action against Iraq.

However, less than half think the U.S. should do what it thinks is right regardless of a veto. 49% think that if Russia, China or France vetoes a resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, the U.S. needs to take that into account.

WHAT IF RUSSIA, FRANCE OR CHINA VETOES THE NEW RESOLUTION?

U.S. should proceed anyway
44%
U.S. should take veto into account
49

Support for military action also drops when the public considers U.S. military and Iraqi civilian casualties and the prospect of a long war. Overall, 50% think removing Hussein is worth the potential loss of American life and the costs of war.

More than half the public believes that a war with Iraq could result in greater stability in the Middle East. But there are concerns about its impact on the United States. 40% say it would make the U.S economy worse, while just 21% say it would improve it. 55% say it would make a terrorist attack on the U.S. more likely.

IMPACT OF WAR WITH IRAQ ON U.S.

Would make U.S. economy:

Worse
40%
Better
21%
Same
33%

Would make terrorism against U.S.:

Increase
55%
Decrease
12%
Same 30%

THE WEAPONS INSPECTIONS AND THE U.N.

The public sees the U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq as having limited success – at least so far. 39% think Iraq is cooperating with them at least somewhat, while 61% think Iraq is cooperating not much or not at all.

IRAQ IS COOPERATING WITH U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTORS…

A lot/some
39%
Not much/not at all
61%

But the public does see some progress as Iraq continues to destroy its Al Samoud 2 missiles as required by the U.N. More than half of Americans think the weapons inspectors have made some or a lot of progress finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

WEAPONS INSPECTORS' PROGRESS FINDING WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION

A lot/some
56%
Not much/not at all
41%

American opinion on how the U.N. is handling the situation has declined since last month. Now, just a third think it is doing a good job, and 58% think it is doing a poor job. About a month ago, opinion was more evenly split: then, 46% thought it was doing a good job, and 48% thought it was managing the crisis poorly.

RATING THE U.N.'S HANDLING OF IRAQ

Good job:

Now
34%
2/10-12/2003
46%

Poor job:

Now
58%
2/10-12/2002
48%


Views on the timing of military action correspond to views of the U.N.'s effectiveness in this situation. Those who think the United Nations is doing a poor job managing the crisis with Iraq are more supportive of taking action soon, while those who think it is doing a good job would rather wait.

THE RIGHT PRIORITIES?

Despite the focus on the possibility of impending war, only 23% of Americans think Iraq is the nation's most important problem. 35% say the economy is, and another 32% say terrorism is the most pressing concern.

An even larger number think the Congress should be focused on the economy right now – 42% say so. 28% say the Congress should be chiefly focused on the war on terror.

THE MOST IMPORTANT PROBLEM…

For the U.S.:

Iraq
23%
The economy
35%
The war on terror
32%
North Korea
7%

For Congress to deal with:

Iraq
19%
The economy
42%
The war on terror
28%
North Korea
6%

THE PRESIDENT

Although a majority of the public may prefer waiting longer than the President to begin military engagement in Iraq, the Administration's efforts to build consensus at the United Nations are at least earning the President higher marks for trying the diplomatic route.

After two months of inspections and negotiations at the U.N., for the first time a majority says Bush has been trying hard at diplomacy. In the middle of January, a majority of Americans thought the President was too quick to get the military involved in the Iraq standoff.

HAS BUSH TRIED HARD ENOUGH AT DIPLOMACY WITH IRAQ?

Yes:

Now
51%
Last week
46%
01/03
38%

No:

Now
41%
Last week
49%
01/03
55%


A majority thinks the President will make the right decision on Iraq -- and a majority has confidence in his ability to handle international crises in general. 52% are confident about President Bush's ability to make the right decision with Iraq, and 55% are confident in his ability to deal with international crises generally.

ARE YOU CONFIDENT BUSH WILL MAKE THE RIGHT DECISIONS…

On Iraq:

Yes, confident
52%
No, uneasy
46%

In an international crisis:

Yes, confident
55%
No, uneasy
42%

But a growing number of Americans believe that other world leaders do not have respect for George W. Bush. 45% say that other leaders do not respect the U.S. President, while last week, 39% said this was the case. 45% think other leaders do have respect for Bush. One year ago, two-thirds of Americans thought their President was respected by other leaders abroad.

DO OTHER WORLD LEADERS RESPECT GEORGE W. BUSH?

Yes:

Now
45%
Two weeks ago
49%
2/02
67%

No:

Now
45%
Two weeks ago
39%
2/02
22%

Americans still have questions about whether the Administration's goals in the Iraq standoff match up with their own. While the U.N. debates have centered around calls for Iraq to disarm, by a wide margin -- 51% to 26% -- Americans think the President is more interested in removing Saddam Hussein outright than in simply removing Iraq's weapons. Americans' own priorities are divided on this question: 34% are more interested in removing Saddam Hussein outright; 40% are more interested in removing Iraq's weapons.

However, although Americans continue to think the President has different priorities than they do in this regard, Americans do appear to be drawing closer to him. A week ago, just 27% were more interested in removing Saddam altogether, and nearly half of Americans prioritized disarmament.

AMERICANS AND THE PRESIDENT: PRIORITIES ON IRAQ

Public Is More Interested In:

Removing weapons

Now
40%
Last week
48%

Removing Saddam

Now
34%
Last week
27%

Both

Now
22%
Last week
19%


Think Bush Is More Interested In:

Removing weapons

Now
26%
Last week
20%

Removing Saddam

Now
51%
Last Week
54%

Both

Now
17%
Last week
18%


In a different question, one that also offered the alternative of whether Bush was most interested in protecting the U.S.' oil supply, 45% think that Bush's main focus is removing Saddam, 25% say it is removing weapons, and 19% say Bush is most interested in protecting oil.

About half of Americans believe that when it comes to Iraq, the President is motivated – at least in part – to accomplish something that his father's administration did not do in the 1991 Gulf War. 48% believe that the current President Bush has a personal desire to do this, while 46% don't believe such a desire is part of his calculus.

G.W. BUSH: TRYING TO DO WHAT HIS FATHER'S ADMINISTRATION DIDN'T?

Yes
48%
No
46%

62% of Americans think the Bush Administration knows more than they are revealing to the public. Only one-third think the Administration has made all its information public to date.

There are also reservations about the Administration's actions when it comes to planning for war. Only 29% of Americans think the Administration has laid out a clear plan for post-war Iraq, while half say it has not.

And most Americans would also like to hear more from the Legislative branch on this matter: 48% say Congress is not asking enough questions about the President's policy toward Iraq, and just 22% say it has been asking the right amount of questions.

Americans have been hearing quite a bit from anti-war protestors in recent weeks, with demonstrations in many cities. Most Americans think that the President should take the views of those protestors into account, at least somewhat, when he makes decisions about Iraq: 61% say so. 37% say the President should not heed the protestor's views much at all.

TERRORISM AND SADDAM

In the week following the U.S.' capture of a suspected top Al Qaeda operative, the number of Americans who think the U.S. is winning the war on terrorism has inched slightly upward -- though most still do not see the U.S. as winning. 45% now say the U.S. is winning, while last week, 41% said so. A few weeks ago the figure stood at 38%.

WHO IS WINNING THE WAR ON TERROR?

Now

The U.S. and allies
45%
The terrorists
14%
Neither side
34%

Last week:

The U.S. and allies
41%
The terrorists
16%
Neither side
33%

45% of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, although the Bush Administration has not made such an assertion. This figure is mostly unchanged from mid-February, and down slightly from last September, when a majority of Americans thought so. 40% say Saddam was not personally involved. Conservatives are the most likely to suspect Saddam Hussein's involvement, with just over half saying so (52%), while less than half of liberals (37%) and moderates (42%) agree. And a majority also believes that an attack on Saddam will increase the likelihood of terrorism in the U.S.

WAS HUSSEIN PERSONALLY INVOLVED IN 9/11 ATTACKS?

Yes

Now
45%
Mid-Feb
42%
9/02
51%

No

Now
40%
Mid-Feb
42%
9/02
33%


THE PRESIDENT'S JOB APPROVAL

56% approve of the way the President is handling his job overall, and about half approve of the general way in which the he is handling the situation with Iraq -- a shade lower than last week. His lowest mark, however, continues to be for his handling of the economy, which the public views as the nation's most important problem. There, just 40% approve.

BUSH JOB APPROVAL

Overall

Now
56%
Last week
58%

Foreign Policy

Now
51%
Last week
51%

Economy

Now
40%
Last week
41%

Handling situation with Iraq

Now
51%
Last week
54%

NORTH KOREA

The number of people who have heard at least something about the North Korean situation has risen in recent weeks. In mid-February, 67% said they had heard something about it, while another third hadn't yet. Now, 79% have heard something about it.

However, as awareness of this situation has risen, so too has the number of people who disapprove of the President's handling of it. Meanwhile the number who approve has stayed roughly the same.

BUSH'S HANDLING OF NORTH KOREA – APPROVE OR DISAPROVE?

Approve

Now
45%
Mid-February
44%

Disapprove

Now
35%
Mid-February
25%


Americans see the North Korean situation as a threat, but nearly three in four believe it can be contained for now. Few people - 14% - believe the situation currently requires military action.

NORTH KOREA THREAT:

Requires military action now
14%
Can be contained
73%
Not a threat
8%




This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1010 adults, interviewed by telephone March 7-9, 2003. 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.
In addition, 52% say the Administration has presented enough evidence to justify military action now.


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

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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