Poll: U.S. In War For Long Haul

A Sultan armored vehicle of the Household Cavalry Regiment (HCR) speeds through the Iraqi desert during battle in this photo made available Thursday, April 3, 2003. AP

As coalition troops move closer to Baghdad, three in four Americans expect the fighting to get harder, not easier, and many worry about the possibility of a chemical weapon attack and additional U.S. casualties, according to a CBS News poll. And while the public expects the fighting in Iraq continue for several months, most don't think it will lead to a larger war in the Middle East.

Three in four Americans think the fighting in Iraq will now get harder, not easier, for U.S. forces.

When asked to say in their own words what worries them most about the fighting over the next few days, one in five Americans volunteer the use of chemical weapons, and 16 percent name U.S. casualties. An additional 14 percent mention casualties on both sides, while others focus on concerns about the difficulties of fighting in Baghdad, an extended war, and possible terrorist attacks.

By two to one, Americans expect this war to last for months, not weeks. But while there has been a slight increase since last week in the percentage who think the war will take just a few weeks (33 percent, up from 27 percent), today's expectations are quite different from those of the early days of the war, when more than half of Americans thought the war would be over in a few weeks.

Seventy-eight percent approve of the U.S. taking military action against Iraq; the public's approval of this war has remained constant since the war began. Just over two-thirds say removing Saddam Hussein from power is worth the loss of life and other costs of war (also mostly unchanged since the war began).

Although support for U.S. military action against Iraq is high among most groups of Americans, there are large differences between men and women on both approval and the assessment of whether the goal is worth the cost involved. Five out of six men approve of military actions to remove Saddam Hussein; 74 percent of women do. And the gender gap is even larger on whether the goal is worth the costs.

Women have historically been more concerned about casualties in wartime, and in this poll, there is also evidence that they put a higher cost on this war than men do. When asked how long the war will last, 66 percent of women say it will last for months, compared with 54 percent of men who think that. Men are more hopeful that the war will take just a few weeks — 41 percent of men think that, compared with only 26 percent of women.

An increasing minority of Americans thinks the goal — of removing Saddam Hussein from power — may already be met. While the vast majority of Americans suspect Saddam is still alive, the percent who believe he is dead has jumped this week to 23 percent, up from just 4 percent who thought so two weeks ago, after the first bombing raid on Baghdad aimed at a site where it was thought he was spending the night.

One other change is an increasing optimism about the war's impact on the future of the Middle East. Before the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, most Americans feared the war could spread into a wider war, drawing in other countries in the region. Now, fewer Americans are concerned about that: 35 percent think the war will is likely to spread to other countries, but a majority says it will not. Just last week 49 percent feared the spread of war, and before the conflict began, 60 percent thought that was a likely outcome.


THE WAR AND THE PRESIDENT

George W. Bush's job approval rating has remained relatively steady since the war began; now, 67 percent approve of the job he is doing as president. Sixty-nine percent approve of his handling of the situation with Iraq, unchanged since the most recent CBS News Poll. Both measures are down slightly since the start of the war, when 71 percent said they approved overall, and 75 percent approved Mr. Bush's handling of Iraq.

The president's approval ratings are higher now than they were before the war began, although this increase has not been as great as the rise in George H.W. Bush's approval ratings at the start of the Persian Gulf War. One explanation could be that many Americans don't hold George W. Bush directly responsible for how the war is going. A third of Americans believe the president is making most of the major decisions about the war, but almost twice as many — 58 percent — believe other people are making those decisions.

There is very little partisan difference on this question; majorities of both Republicans and Democrats say others, not the president, are making the major war decisions.

This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 950 adults, interviewed by telephone April 2-3, 2003. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample.

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

  • John Esterbrook

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