Poll: Support For War At New Low

GENERIC Bush Iraq AP / CBS

News of the abuse charges against American soldiers appears to have exacerbated what were already growing American concerns about the situation in Iraq. While most Americans do not think the abuse was widespread, they agree it was unjustified, even though two-thirds say what happened to the Iraqi prisoners was no worse than what Iraqis have done to Americans in this war.

Americans are divided as to whether the blame should go higher up the military chain of command and whether the Pentagon tried to cover up the problem. While they are also divided in their evaluation of Donald Rumsfeld's performance as Secretary of Defense, most don't want him to resign or be forced out. But there are continued declines in President George W. Bush's approval ratings -- on handling Iraq and handling the campaign against terrorism.

This CBS News Poll was conducted beginning Tuesday afternoon, just after reports of the beheading of an American civilian in Iraq, apparently in retaliation for the prisoner abuse.

THE IMPACT ON THE WAR IN IRAQ
Six in ten Americans say the abuse of Iraqi prisoners has created a very serious problem for U.S. progress in Iraq.

HOW SERIOUS A PROBLEM FOR U.S. PROGRESS IN IRAQ IS THE ABUSE OF IRAQI PRISONERS?

Very serious
60%
Somewhat serious
23%
Not serious
14%

That impact is clear on several measures of the public's evaluations of what is now happening in Iraq, with some dramatic changes in opinion just in the last two weeks.

Just 29 percent -- the lowest figure so far in CBS News Polls -- say the result of the war in Iraq has been worth the cost in lives and money. Almost two-thirds say it has not been worth it.

WAS THE WAR WORTH IT?

Yes
Now
29%
Two Weeks Ago
33%
8/2003
46%

No
Now
64%
Two weeks ago
58%
8/2003
45%

For the first time there is a clear majority who now thinks U.S. troops should turn over control to Iraqis as soon as possible, even if Iraq is not stable. Less than four in ten think U.S. troops should remain in Iraq as long as it takes to make sure Iraq is a stable democracy.

HOW LONG SHOULD U.S. TROOPS STAY IN IRAQ?

As long as it takes for stability
Now
38%
4/2004
46%
12/2003
56%

Turn over to Iraqis as soon as possible
Now
55%
4/2004
46%
12/2003
35%

There is no indication that the situation in Iraq is close to stable now and that the U.S. is in control. Less than a third, the lowest percentage ever, say the U.S. is now in control of events in Iraq.

IS THE U.S. IN CONTROL IN IRAQ?

Yes
Now
31%
10/2003
39%
7/2003
45%

No
Now
57%
10/2003
50%
7/2003
41%

In fact, less than a third even thinks the U.S. is winning the war in Iraq. More than half think neither the U.S. nor the Iraqi resistance is winning.

WHO IS WINNING IN IRAQ?

The U.S.
31%
Iraqi resistance
10%
Neither side
54%

As for the broader battle for the Arab world, the public overwhelmingly thinks that the war in Iraq is making the U.S.'s image in the Arab world worse. Only 6 percent think the war's result has improved the U.S.'s image.

IS THE WAR MAKING U.S. IMAGE IN ARAB WORLD…?

Better
Now
6%
Two weeks ago
10%
One year ago (4/2003)
34%

Worse
Now
73%
Two weeks ago
71%
One year ago (4/2003)
44%

No difference
Now
14%
Two weeks ago
10%
One year ago (4/2003)
13%

Still, the public remains closely divided on whether or not the U.S. did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq.

IRAQ: DID U.S. DO THE RIGHT THING, OR SHOULD U.S. HAVE STAYED OUT

Right thing
Now
49%
Two weeks ago
47%
12/2003
64%

Should have stayed out
Now
45%
Two weeks ago
46%
12/2003
28%

WHO'S TO BLAME?
Americans are divided on whether the soldiers so far implicated in the charges of abuse of Iraqi prisoners were just acting on their own or were following orders. 37 percent say they were acting on their own, but 46 percent said they were following orders from superiors.

THE SOLDIERS INVOLVED WERE…?
Acting on their own
37%
Following orders from superiors
46%

But two out of three Americans believe the behavior is limited to the few soldiers already implicated.

ABUSE OF IRAQI PRISONERS IS…?
Limited to the few soldiers involved
65%
Widespread among U.S. troops
27%

Americans expect negative things to happen in wartime. 67 percent say that what the U.S. guards did to Iraqi prisoners was no worse than what Iraqis have done to Americans in the war.

However, three in four say they expect better from American soldiers. 13 percent say the treatment of Iraqi prisoners was justified because of the nature of war -- that these things happen to prisoners of war. 77 percent can't justify this behavior and say that U.S. soldiers should behave better.

TREATMENT OF IRAQI PRISONERS BY U.S. TROOPS WAS…?
Justified
13%
Not justified
77%

A MILITARY COVER-UP?
Just over a quarter of the public thinks senior military officers authorized the abuse of prisoners. But many -- though not a plurality -- still think that senior military officers should be held responsible. 40 percent say they should be held responsible; 46 percent would limit blame to the individual soldiers involved.

SHOULD HIGHER MILITARY OFFICIALS BE HELD RESPONSIBLE?
Yes
40%
No
46%

Opinions are divided as to how senior military officials handled the scandal. 43 percent think officials at the Pentagon tried to cover up the allegations, and 39 percent think they investigated them.

DID THE MILITARY TRY TO COVER UP OR INVESTIGATE?
Cover up
43%
Investigate
39%

And most Americans don't think the principle reason that military officials have expressed public distress is that the abuses happened. Instead, Americans believe that the military officials are upset because the public found out about the abuses.

MILITARY OFFICIALS ARE MOSTLY UPSET BECAUSE…?
The abuses happened
29%
The public found out
61%

THE ADMINISTRATION'S RESPONSE
The President and his team receive slightly better assessments than the military when it comes to the public's view of their handling of this situation. 51 percent say the Administration has taken the reports seriously, though 36 percent disagree.

HAS BUSH ADMINISTRATION TAKEN REPORTS SERIOUSLY ENOUGH?
Yes
51%
No
36%

Just over a third think Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld should resign or be removed from office because of the scandal. 53 percent say he should remain. Support for Rumsfeld's removal in this poll, while still less than a majority, is somewhat higher than in polls conducted last week.

SHOULD RUMSFELD RESIGN AS SECRETARY OF DEFENSE?
Yes
37%
No
53%

Overall, Americans are divided on how they evaluate Rumsfeld's overall performance. Just about the same percentage approve as disapprove of the way he is handling his job as Secretary of Defense.

DONALD RUMSFELD JOB PERFORMANCE
Approve
43%
Disapprove
45%

Republicans and Democrats evaluate Rumsfeld differently. 57 percent of Democrats say Rumsfeld should resign, compared with only 13 percent of Republicans.

THE PRESIDENT
Evaluations of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation in Iraq continue to slide. 39 percent, the lowest rating in the CBS News Polls, say they approve of the way he is handling the war in Iraq.

BUSH'S HANDLING OF WAR IN IRAQ

Approve
Now
39%
Two weeks ago
41%
12/2003
57%

Disapprove
Now
58%
Two weeks ago
52%
12/2003
36%

His other ratings have also dropped in the last two weeks, especially the evaluation of how he is handling the campaign against terrorism. While that is still his strong point, approval is now 51 percent, down nine points from two weeks ago.

BUSH'S HANDLING OF CAMPAIGN AGAINST TERRORISM

Approve
Now
51%
Two weeks ago
60%
12/2003
70%

Disapprove
Now
39%
Two weeks ago
32%
12/2003
23%

There is continued weakness in the assessment of the President's handling of the economy -- approval there is down to 34 percent, with 60 percent disapproving. 44 percent approve of the way the President is handling his job overall. Both of those percentages are lower than in previous polls as well.

THE PRESIDENT'S APPROVAL RATINGS

Overall
Approve
44%
Disapprove
49%

Handling economy
Approve
34%
Disapprove
60%

THE NEWS MEDIA: SHOULD THEY RELEASE THE PICTURES?
Nearly eight in ten Americans say they are following the story of abuse of Iraqi prisoners closely (with 42 percent following it very closely), but it appears many of them may wish the story had never been broadcast or reported.

A bare majority says the news media should have released the photographs of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, but 43 percent say they should not have. And when it comes to releasing the remaining pictures, just 37 percent say that should be done. 57 percent would rather the rest of the pictures never be released.

SHOULD THE MEDIA HAVE RELEASED THE ABUSE PHOTOS?
Yes
51%
No
43%

SHOULD THE MEDIA RELEASE THE REMAINING PICTURES?
Yes
37%
No
57%

There are partisan differences when it comes to opinions about the release of the photos (Republicans are more likely to oppose their release); there are also gender differences. Women are more likely than men to oppose the release of more photographs.

Nearly half the public think the news media has spent too much tine covering the story -- just about as many say the coverage has been about right or has been too little.

THE PRISONER ABUSE STORY: THE NEWS MEDIA HAS SPENT…
Too much time covering
49%
Too little time covering
6%
Right amount of time
41%



This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 448 adults interviewed by telephone May 11, 2004. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus five 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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