Poll: U.S. Has Made Case Against Iraq

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell holds up a vial that he said could contain anthrax as he presents evidence of Iraq's alleged weapons programs to the United Nations Security Council Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2003 CBS/AP

As Americans weigh the evidence presented Wednesday to the United Nations by Secretary of State Colin Powell, a new CBS News poll shows an increasing percentage believe the case has been made for military action, but most still prefer that the U.S. get U.N. approval before taking such action and would like to give the weapons inspectors more time to work.

Americans remain generally supportive of military action against Iraq – a feeling that hasn't changed much since last fall. In this poll, 70% approve of the U.S. taking military action against Iraq.

APPROVE OF MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAQ?

NOW
Yes 70%

No 21%


JANUARY '03
Yes 64%

No 30%


NOVEMBER '02
Yes 70%

No 23%



But most also would prefer that the United Nations officially sanction any U.S. military action there. Sixty-three percent think the U.S. needs to wait for the approval of the United Nations before taking any action against Iraq.

SHOULD U.S. STRIKE NOW WITHOUT U.N. APPROVAL?

Act Now 31%

Wait for U.N. Approval 63%


And given a choice between action right now and more weapons inspections, a majority of Americans thinks the U.N. weapons inspectors should get more time. 61% say give the inspectors more time, 35% say the U.S. should take action fairly soon.

Did Powell make the case?

The Secretary of State speech was persuasive: just over half of Americans say the administration has provided enough evidence to justify military action right now, while 38% say it has not.

HAS ADMINISTRATION SHOWN ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO JUSTIFY ACTION NOW?
Yes 53%

No 38%


Americans are slightly more skeptical about the Bush Administration's evidence of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, but 45% say evidence shows the link exists. 39% say there is not enough evidence to connect them.

ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO LINK IRAQ AND AL QAEDA?
Yes 45%

No 39%


Those who have heard or seen a lot about Powell's speech (nearly one in three Americans) are even more convinced the case has been made for military action: 69% of them think the Bush administration has presented enough evidence to show that a strike against Iraq is necessary now. But while this attentive group sees a strike as justified, the timing does not need to be immediate: they are split when asked to choose whether the U.S. should strike now or still give the weapons inspectors more time. Half in this group think the administration has convincingly made the connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

HAS BUSH ADMINISTRATION PRESENTED ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO ...

MAKE A CASE FOR WAR NOW (TOTAL)
Yes 53%

No 38%


LINK IRAQ TO AL QAEDA
Yes 45%

No 39%


MAKE A CASE FOR WAR NOW (HEARD A LOT ABOUT SPEECH)
Yes 69%

No 28%


LINK IRAQ TO AL QAEDA
Yes 52%

No 40%


The speech caught the attention of both Democrats and Republicans: two-thirds of each party's identifiers had seen or heard something about it. But they took different perspectives on what it meant: 72% of Republicans think the Bush Administration has made the case for military action now, but just 35% of Democrats agree.

It took some time for Americans to absorb the presentation. Those interviewed on Thursday, the day after Powell's speech, were more likely to believe the case had been made for military action, and less willing to think that weapons inspectors should be given more time.

ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO JUSTIFY MILITARY ACTION NOW
Wednesday 48%

Thursday 56%


SHOULD TAKE MILITARY ACTION SOON
Wednesday 32%

Thursday 37%


SHOULD GIVE INSPECTORS MORE TIME
Wednesday 65%

Thursday 57%


The Powell speech, the President's State of the Union message last week and other Administration efforts have made the Administration's message increasingly clear to the public. 56% now say the administration has clearly explained its position regarding Iraq, up from 27% in early September, before President Bush's speech to the U.N.

Americans are also more likely now than they were in January to credit the Administration with patience when it comes to using the military against Iraq. 47% now say the Administration has tried hard enough to reach a diplomatic solution in regard to Iraq, while 43% say it is too quick to use the military. In January a majority said the Administration was too quick to use force.

BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S DEALINGS WITH IRAQ

TRIES TOO HARD FOR A DIPLOMATIC SOLUITION
Now 47%

Last Month 38%


TOO QUICK TO USE MILITARY
Now 43%

Last Month 55%


However, Americans are divided on who bears the burden of proof at the U.N: 46% say it is up to Iraq to prove it does not have weapons, while 43% say it is up to the U.S. to prove Iraq does. Two-thirds of those who say it's up to the U.S. would give the inspectors more time, as would a smaller majority (53%) of those who put the burden on Iraq.

View of the President

Following a State of the Union speech which greatly impressed those who watched it, President George W. Bush's overall approval rating has climbed, up to 63% from 59% in late January. His rating on handling foreign policy is also up to 59% from 53% a few weeks ago. However, the President's rating on handling the economy remains low, at 44%.

BUSH JOB APPROVAL

OVERALL JOB
Now 63%
January '03 59%

HANDLING FOREIGN POLICY
Now 59%
January '03 52%

HANDLING ECONOMY
Now 44%
January '03 44%

Americans are now much more inclined to believe that the President shares their priorities for the nation than they were before the State of the Union address. Then, 45% said he shared those priorities and a majority said he did not. Now 54% say he does.

DOES BUSH SHARE YOUR PRIORITIES FOR THE NATION?

NOW
Yes 54%
No 39%

JANUARY '03
Yes 45%
No 52%

Among those who watched the speech, 64% say he shares their priorities. Only 41% of non-watchers agreed.



This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 831 adults, interviewed by telephone February 5-6, 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.

  • John Esterbrook

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