Poll: Most Back War With Or Without U.N

UN lraq weapons inspectors war CBS/AP

President Bush said that Monday is the final day for the United Nations Security Council to act on a new resolution - but Americans see war as inevitable, with or without one. While Americans have preferred U.N. backing for a military strike against Iraq, in this poll they appear to have lost patience with the allies and the U.N., and a majority would approve of a strike no matter what the Security Council does.

And whatever happens at the U.N., Americans think the first casualties of the war may have already occurred: they believe both U.N. and the U.S.' abilities to influence future world affairs have been weakened by this crisis.

Most Americans support action against Iraq even without a U.N. authorization, though support drops without U.N. support for a second resolution.


APPROVE OR DISAPPROVE OF MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAQ...



Approve:

Overall
67%
If Security Council does not vote at all
60%
If Security Council votes "No"
54%

Disapprove:

Overall
29%
If Security Council does not vote at all
36%
If Security Council votes "No"
40%


Still, the public wants to see the process run its course: they believe the U.S. should call a vote today and make the allies "show their cards," as President Bush suggested last week, whether the U.S. thinks it would win or lose.

SHOULD U.S. CALL FOR A U.N. VOTE, EVEN IF IT WILL LOSE?

Yes
70%
No
23%

To most Americans, though, any second resolution may be a moot point when it comes to deciding war or peace: most say the President has already made up his mind on a military strike, and is no longer considering other options.

HAS BUSH ALREADY DECIDED TO TAKE MILITARY ACTION?

Yes
67%
No
28%

Moreover, the public does not see a peaceful resolution to the standoff, even if Iraq was given more time to disarm. Three out of four Americans say allowing Iraq more time to disarm would only postpone an inevitable war, not avert it altogether.

IF THE U.N. GIVES IRAQ MORE TIME, THAT WILL...

Lead to a peaceful resolution of the crisis
18%
Just postpone an inevitable war
75%

If the international community does oppose war, Americans divide on their most preferred next step. While 54% approve of action even after a "no" vote, 49% would make this their first choice and think the U.S. should go ahead with its military operations anyway. 40% believe the U.S. should strike only with U.N. backing, while 9% say the U.S. should not strike at all.

THE U.S. SHOULD TAKE MILITARY ACTION...

Even if U.N. is opposed
49%
ONLY if U.N. approves
40%
Not at all
9%

THE U.N., ALLIES AND WEAPONS INSPECTIONS

A majority sees the current diplomatic impasse as resulting from the failure of other nations to cooperate, rather than any mishandling of affairs by the Bush Administration.

THE U.N. DIDN'T VOTE ON A NEW RESOLUTION LAST WEEK BECAUSE...?

Other nations refused to cooperate
62%
Bush Administration handled diplomacy poorly
20%

Americans think this is also the case with regard to France, specifically. 65% think the impasse between the U.S. and its ally France has come from France's refusal to cooperate, not from diplomatic failures by Bush.

Overall, the U.N.'s handling of the crisis has found increasing disfavor among Americans. In mid-February Americans were split on the U.N.'s handling. Now less than a third say it is doing a good job.

RATING THE U.N.'S HANDLING OF IRAQ

Good job:

Now
32%
Last week
34%
Mid-February
46%

Poor job:

Now
58%
Last week
58%
Mid-February
48%

Calls for continued weapons inspections instead of military action had been supported by a majority of Americans - until this poll. Less than half would give U.N. weapons inspectors more time, and nearly as many want to take action soon.

U.S. SHOULD:

Take military action soon:

Now
46%
Last week
44%
Two weeks ago
35%

Give inspectors more time:

Now
49%
Last week
52%
Two weeks ago
60%


This is despite the fact that most Americans do see the inspections as making some progress.

WEAPONS INSPECTORS' PROGRESS FINDING WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION

A lot/some:

Now
58%
Last week
56%

Not much/not at all:

Now
40%
Last week
41%

As diplomatic efforts at the U.N. appear to be ending, most Americans do not like what this standoff bodes for the future. Looking ahead, Americans say the crisis has weakened, not strengthened, the U.S. in any future attempts to influence world affairs. Even more say the United Nations has been weakened.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: THE IRAQ STANDOFF HAS...

Weakened U.S. influence in world affairs
44%
Strengthened U.S. influence
12%

Weakened U.N. influence in world affairs
58%
Strengthened U.N. influence
10%

THE PRESIDENT'S EFFORTS AT DIPLOMACY

Half the public thinks that the President is trying hard enough at reaching a diplomatic solution. He has not gained much ground this past week in convincing Americans of this, though over the past two months, he has; the number of Americans who think he is trying hard enough has risen substantially since January.

HAS BUSH TRIED HARD ENOUGH AT DIPLOMACY WITH IRAQ?

Yes:

Now
52%
Last week
51%
Two weeks ago
46%
01/03
38%

No:

Now
44%
Last week
41%
Two weeks ago
49%
01/03
55%


54% are confident that Bush will make the right decisions in an international crisis; 44% are uneasy about his approach. This is unchanged from last week.

But despite their confidence in the President, Americans feel that he, too, has so far come through this crisis with some damage: less than half believe their President is respected by other leaders around the world.

DO OTHER WORLD LEADERS RESPECT BUSH?

Yes:

Now
42%
Last week
45%
2/02
67%

No:

Now
47%
Last week
45%
2/02
22%


Two-thirds think that Bush, in turn, has respect for other world leaders. Just over one-quarter thinks that Bush does not.

But if the President has not made the case for war to the international community, he has made it for an increasing number of Americans. The percentage that says the Administration has presented enough evidence to show that military action is necessary has risen this week to 56%.

HAS BUSH PRESENTED ENOUGH EVIDENCE YET TO JUSTIFY ACTION NOW?

Yes:

Now
56%
Last week
52%
2/03
47%

No:

Now
39%
Last week
43%
2/03
44%

In speaking about Iraq and the case for war, the President has - as numerous observers have noted - often mentioned his religious beliefs in many of his speeches about a possible war. Americans have mixed reactions to this. 48% say they like the President discussing his religious beliefs when discussing war. 38% say they are bothered by it. Among the most religious Americans, 60% like the President's use of religious language, while 30% are bothered by it.

THE PRESIDENT'S JOB APPROVAL

The President's job approval ratings - overall, on foreign policy, and on handling Iraq -- are up this week, suggesting that the nation begins to rally around its Commander-in-Chief for a war that most expect.

BUSH JOB APPROVAL

Overall:

Now
58%
Last week
56%

Foreign policy:

Now
55%
Last week
51%

Economy:

Now
38%
Last week
40%

Handling situation with Iraq:

Now
55%
Last week
51%


However, on the domestic front, things are not so positive for the President: only 38% approve of his handling of the economy. This figure matches his previous low on this issue, measured in mid-February; it has been under the 50% mark since July of 2002.


A majority of Americans continues to believe the economy is in bad shape: 60% say so. This sentiment is mostly unchanged since last summer.


THE COSTS OF WAR

54% now say removing Saddam is worth the potential costs, including the potential loss of American life. While this is higher than at any point since last September, four in ten continue to say it would not be worth the cost.

IS REMOVING SADDAM WORTH POTENTIAL LOSS OF AMERICAN LIFE?

Yes:

Now
54%
Last week
50%
2/03
51%

No:

Now
40%
Last week
43%
2/03
40%

In the eyes of most Americans, the looming war will be no help to the struggling economy. 45% say war will make the economy worse, up from 41% in mid-February. 27% say it will have no effect. Just 22% believe war will provide an economic boost at home.

Americans do think a war will have a negative impact when it comes to their safety: 54% say the threat of terrorism will increase if the U.S. strikes Iraq, a feeling mostly unchanged throughout the standoff.

IMPACT OF WAR WITH IRAQ ON U.S.

Would make U.S. economy:

Worse

Now
45%
Mid-February
41%

Better

Now
22%
Mid-February
23%

Same

Now
27%
Mid-February
31%


Would make terrorism against U.S.:

Increase

Now
54%
Mid-February
55%

Decrease

Now
11%
Mid-February
12%

Same

Now
32%
Mid-February
30%


In the short run, at least, the public does not seem to buy the argument - made by the Bush Administration and others - that a war with Iraq will make Americans safer from terrorism. Asked which would be more likely to increase terror, taking action or not taking action against Iraq, 46% said taking action would give rise to more terrorist attacks, 34% said holding off on a strike would lead to more terror.

ACTION OR NO ACTION: WHICH WILL LEAD TO MORE TERRORISM?

Taking action against Iraq
46%
NOT taking action against Iraq
34%




This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,049 adults, interviewed by telephone March 15-16, 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.

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

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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