Poll: U.S. Losing Grip In Iraq

Ground war iraq US army marines combat CBS/AP

Americans express growing concern that things are not going well for the U.S. in Iraq. More now than at any time since the war ended think things are going badly for the U.S. there, and an increasing number see U.S. control of events there slipping away. Americans continue to support the United Nations having a lead role in Iraq.

Although the public expresses more concern about U.S. involvement in Iraq, and American troops continue to experience casualties -- the number of American lives lost in Iraq since the war was officially declared over has now surpassed the casualties experienced during combat -- the public still supports a U.S. troop presence. Only a third want U.S. troops brought back home.

As they have for many months, Americans support a multilateral approach to rebuilding and governing Iraq, and that support has grown in this poll. 69% of Americans think the United Nations, and not the United States, should have the lead responsibility for setting up a new government in Iraq, even more than felt that way last April. 25% want the U.S. to be responsible for building an Iraqi government.

Democrats are strongly supportive of this multilateral approach; 83% want the United Nations to have the lead role in Iraq. A smaller majority of Republicans (56%) also prefers the U.N. to lead the government rebuilding effort.

The desire for U.N. involvement may be fueled by the growing perception that the U.S. is having difficulty in Iraq. Nearly half of Americans now think things are going badly for the U.S. in Iraq. That number has continued its rise since early last month.

HOW ARE THINGS GOING FOR U.S. IN IRAQ?

Now:
Well
51%
Badly
47%

8/12-13:
Well
53%
Badly
40%

7/8-9:
Well
60%
Badly
36%

There is a strong partisan element to these views, with Republicans offering a much more optimistic assessment than Democrats. 73% of Republicans think things are going well in Iraq (compared to 30% of Democrats), and 57% of Republicans think the U.S. is in control there (compared to 27% of Democrats).

Just 42% of Americans think the U.S. is in control of events in Iraq, while 47% think the U.S. is not in control there. That is a slightly more negative assessment of the situation than was seen earlier in August, when 45% thought the U.S. was in control in Iraq, and 43% thought it was not. It is a drastic change in public perceptions since the end of April, when the war was still underway.

IS THE U.S. IN CONTROL IN IRAQ?

Now:
Yes
42%
No
47%

8/12-13:
Yes
45%
No
43%

4/26-27:
Yes
71%
No
20%

Older people are especially likely to think the U.S. is not in control in Iraq. More women than men think things in Iraq are going badly, and fewer women think the U.S. is in control of the situation in Iraq.

But so far, there is no public demand for a withdrawal of American troops. Although just under a third think the number of U.S. troops in Iraq ought to be decreased, 41% think the U.S. should keep the same number of troops in Iraq, and 22% think the U.S. military presence in Iraq ought to be increased.

Those who think things in Iraq are going badly for the U.S. are over twice as likely as those who think it is going well to want U.S. troop presence decreased.

Before the war's start, more than half of Americans expected the war against Iraq would increase the threat of terrorism against the U.S. That perception decreased as combat wound down, and now a third think the threat of terrorism against the U.S. has increased as a result of the war against Iraq. 48% think the threat of terrorism hasn't been affected by the war, and 19% think the threat has decreased.

Americans do think the Bush Administration has not been forthright about its dealings with Iraq; 61% think the Administration has usually told the truth but has hidden some things. 19% think it has mostly lied, while 17% think the Administration has told the entire truth about Iraq.

ON DEALINGS WITH IRAQ, BUSH ADMINISTRATION HAS:

Told entire truth
17%
Hidden some things
61%
Been mostly lying
19%

Despite continuing casualties, Americans' views about whether the war in Iraq was worthwhile have changed little in the past few months. Since July, the public has been divided as to whether the result of the war was worth the loss of American life and the other costs of attacking Iraq; 46% now think it was worth it, and 46% think it was not.

Earlier CBS News Polls have also asked if ousting Saddam Hussein from power was worth the costs. Mentioning Saddam's ouster increases public perception that the war has been worth it.

THE PRESIDENT

So far, the president does not appear to be affected by public restlessness over Iraq. President George W. Bush's overall job approval rating is 55% in this poll, the same as it was earlier this month. 37% disapprove of the job he is doing as president.

His current ratings on handling foreign policy and the economy are also similar to those he received a few weeks ago. Now, 50% approve of his handling of foreign policy, and 39% approve of his handling of the economy.

BUSH'S JOB APPROVAL RATINGS:

Overall
55%
Handling foreign policy
50%
Handling the economy
39%

THE ECONOMY

Despite the ongoing conflict in Iraq, this poll shows some improvement on another issue the public cares deeply about – the economy.

While current assessments of the country's economy are more negative than positive, views of the economy have improved slightly in the past few weeks. Now, 44% think it is in very or fairly good shape, and 54% think it is in bad shape. A few weeks ago, 38% thought it was in good shape and 60% thought it was bad.

25% think it is getting better (not much different from earlier this month), but slightly more – 31% -- think it is getting worse. 43% think it is staying the same.

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



This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 930 adults interviewed by telephone August 26-28, 2003. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample.
  • Joel Roberts

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