Poll: Worries Over War And Economy

UN lraq weapons inspectors war CBS/AP

Whatever Hans Blix's weapons inspection report may say, Americans are convinced that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and that those weapons pose a threat -- though the public divides on whether the threat is imminent or can be contained. Most continue to support military action, and three in four expect there will be war, even though many are still uncertain that it is necessary right now, and would prefer any military action be taken with United Nations backing.

But there are other issues of concern -- the threat from terrorism and the perception of a worsening economy. Four in five Americans expect another terrorist attack in the near future, and the highest percentage of Americans in nearly a decade say the economy is in bad shape. These worries are affecting Americans' feelings about the country and perhaps even their assessments of the President.

The economy is clearly a major problem for the President. Just 38% approve of the way George W. Bush is handling the economy--– the lowest percentage since he has been in office.


BUSH'S RATING ON HANDLING THE ECONOMY

Approve:

Now
38%
1/23/02
44%
2/2002
54%
3/2001
55%

Disapprove:

Now
53%
1/23/03
49%
2/2002
37%
3/2001
28%


Perceptions of the economy continue to decline, as they have since the start of the Bush Administration; in this poll, 60% think it is in bad shape, while 39% think it is good -- the worst evaluation of the state of the economy since September, 1993.

STATE OF THE ECONOMY

Good:

Now
39%
1/2001
84%
9/1993
32%

Bad:

Now
60%
1/2001
15%
9/1993
67%

The economy is of greatest concern to most Americans right now. When asked which is the most important for Congress to address -- the economy, Iraq, or the war on terror, 41% say the economy should be the primary focus of government. 30% think Iraq is the priority, followed by 23% who name the war on terror.

WHICH SHOULD CONGRESS CONCENTRATE ON?

Now:

Economy
41%
Iraq
30%
War on terror
23%

1/2003

Economy
56%
Iraq
19%
War on terror
22%

There is evidence that the situation in Iraq is becoming more urgent, reflected in the greater number of Americans who now think Iraq should be the priority, compared to last month.

Those economic concerns, coupled with expectations for war and worries about terrorism, have made Americans increasingly likely to say the country has gotten off on the wrong track. 56% now say that's the case -- and just 35% say it is headed in the right direction. Those numbers are among the most negative results in recent years.

COUNTRY IS HEADED IN THE…

Right direction
35%
Wrong track
56%

And these worries also appear to be taking a toll on more general evaluations of the President -- not just on the assessments of his handling of the economy. Although the immediate effect of the State of the Union message was to boost the President's approval rating, it has now slipped back.

Now, 54% approve of the job Bush is doing as president-- the lowest job approval rating he has received since before September 11 2001. Less than half approve of his handling of foreign policy, the first time that has happened since 9/11. Bush receives slightly more credit for his handling of the situation with Iraq -- a majority approves of that.

BUSH JOB EVALUATION

Approve:

Overall
54%
Handling foreign policy
47%
Handling situation with Iraq
53%

Disapprove:
Overall
38%
Handling foreign policy
44%
Handling situation with Iraq
42%


Most of the recent decline has occurred among Democrats and Independents. After Bush's State of the Union message, 41% of Democrats said they approved of the way Bush was handling his job. Just 29% said they did in this poll.


GOING TO WAR WITH IRAQ
Though the Bush Administration's case against Iraq got a boost from Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations last week, many still believe that it has not shown the need to go to war immediately. However, should a military strike come, Americans do continue to back the idea of forcibly removing Saddam Hussein.

Asked whether they believed Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction, an overwhelming 85% of Americans said it was. Nearly half are pessimistic that the U.N. weapons inspectors can root those weapons out.

IS IRAQ HIDING WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION?

Yes, though U.N. won't find them
49%
Yes, and the U.N. will find them
36%
No
5%

But asked to assess the threat to the U.S. from Iraq's weapons, and what action that requires now, Americans were split: just under half said Iraqi weapons present a threat that necessitates military action right now, and about the same number said the weapons, while a threat, can be contained for now.

IRAQ'S DEVELOPMENT OF WEAPONS…

Is a threat requiring military action now
46%
Is a threat that can be contained for now
44%
Is not a threat
7%

Americans continue to approve of the idea of removing Saddam Hussein via force, as they have throughout this standoff. In this poll, two-thirds support military action.

APPROVE OF MILITARY ACTION TO REMOVE HUSSEIN?

Yes:

Now
66%
Last week
70%
1/03
64%
11/02
70%

No:

Now
29%
Last week
21%
1/03
30%
11/02
23%


But most Americans don't believe the danger from Iraq means that the U.S. needs to use force without the support of its allies. Most Americans said they wanted to wait for allied backing – a feeling that, despite recent conflicts with countries like France and Germany, has remained unchanged since last fall.

SHOULD U.S. WAIT FOR ALLIES' BACKING?

Yes, wait:

Now
63%
10/02
63%

No, take action without allies:

Now
32%
10/02
28%

While there is debate on whether the Bush Administration should seek a second resolution from the U.N., Americans favor holding off military action until the U.N. formally gives it a green light -- though this feeling is not as widespread as the desire to get allies on board.

SHOULD U.S. WAIT FOR UNITED NATIONS APPROVAL?

Yes, wait
56%
No, take action without U.N. approval
38%

Americans want the U.N. inspectors to keep trying: 59% say they should be given more time. Despite the new evidence presented last week by the Bush Administration, this feeling has not changed very much since last fall.

TAKE ACTION OR GIVE INSPECTIONS MORE TIME?

Take action soon:

Now
37%
Last week
35%
10/02
29%

Give inspectors more time:

Now
59%
Last week
61%
10/02
63%

Americans are more likely to think the United Nations is doing a good job than a bad job, by 51% to 41%. That's an improvement since last September, when 40% thought they were doing a good job, but it is not as positive as the evaluation the public gave the U.N. just after September 11, 2001.

EVALUATION OF THE U.N.

Good job:
Now
51%
9/2002
40%
11/2001
63%

Poor job:
Now
41%
9/2002
50%
11/2001
27%

Opinion is split about the job the U.N. is doing with regard to Iraq; 46% think it is doing a good job, and 48% think it is doing a poor job. Views of how the U.N. is handling Iraq vary according to views on a war with Iraq; those who support military action to remove Hussein are more critical of the U.N. than are those who oppose it.

U.N. HANDLING SITUATION WITH IRAQ

Good job
46%
Poor job
48%


THE CASE FOR WAR
Despite Colin Powell's well-received speech last week at the U.N. (which seven in ten Americans paid attention to) many Americans are still unconvinced that the Administration has given them enough information to justify war right now.

Powell's speech, however, did convince many that the Administration had explained its policy clearly to the public, and most still believe that. In September, just 27% of Americans thought the Bush Administration had clearly explained the U.S. position on Iraq. That percentage more than doubled after Powell's speech, and a week later 53% agree. 41% disagree.

HAS BUSH ADMINISTRATION CLEARLY EXPLAINED ITS POSITION ON IRAQ?

Yes:

Now
53%
2/7/2003
56%
9/2002
27%

No:

Now
41%
2/7/2003
36%
9/2002
64%


Public reaction to the evidence Powell presented is mostly positive. Although fewer than half of Americans think he demonstrated that military action is necessary now, or that Iraq has ties to Al Qaeda, more people think he demonstrated those things than that he hasn't. By a wide margin, the public thinks Powell did show enough evidence that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.

HAS COLIN POWELL PRESENTED ENOUGH EVIDENCE THAT…?

Military action against Iraq is necessary now:

Yes
45%
No
40%

Iraq has weapons of mass destruction:

Yes
51%
No
38%

Iraq has ties to al Qaeda:

Yes
49%
No
36%

Powell's success demonstrating that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction – something most Americans believe-- could be a key tool for gaining public support for military action. Preventing Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons is seen as a good enough reason to take military action against Iraq by 66% of the public. Americans also think toppling Hussein is an acceptable reason to go to war with Iraq, but most think protecting access to oil is not a justifiable reason.

GOOD ENOUGH REASON TO GO TO WAR WITH IRAQ?

Prevent weapons of mass destruction:

Yes
66%
No
28%

Remove Hussein:

Yes
56%
No
41%

Protect access to oil:

Yes
19%
No
78%

Two-thirds of Americans approve of using military action to remove Saddam Hussein, yet Americans are split when asked if removing Iraq's ruler would be worth the potential costs. Part of this may stem from the fact that Americans do not believe a war will be easy or short. 80% say it will last at least several months, and about half say it will result in at least 1,000 U.S. troop casualties.

In addition, nearly half (49%) of Americans think the war will not be fought only by bombing raids from the air, but will also involve heavy combat among ground troops.

All told, when asked whether removing Hussein is generally worth the possible consequences of war, Americans tend to think it is by 51% to 40%. When Americans are asked to consider their support for removing Hussein in light of specific potential consequences – substantial U.S. troop casualties, Iraqi civilian casualties, or long involvement – support drops off to just under a majority.

FAVOR MILITARY ACTION

To remove Saddam Hussein from power
66%
…But if there were substantial U.S. casualties
45%
…But there were substantial Iraqi civilian casualties
46%
…But U.S. military involved for months or years
47%

The public's perception that the Bush Administration might be rushing to war has softened slightly. Now, the public is almost evenly divided as to whether the Administration tries hard enough to reach a diplomatic solution or whether it is too quick to get the military involved. In early January, more thought the Administration was too quick to turn to the military.

BUSH ADMINISTRATION: TOO QUICK TO USE THE MILITARY VS. IRAQ?

Trying hard enough at diplomacy:

Now
45%
1/2003
38%

Too quick to involve military:

Now
48%
1/2003
55%


THE RISKS OF WAR
Most Americans do not think a war in Iraq will serve as a panacea for the more pressing problem of the economy; 41% expect a war to make the U.S. economy worse. 23% think a war will improve the economy, and 31% think it will have no effect.

EFFECT OF WAR IN IRAQ ON ECONOMY

Will make it worse
41%
Will make it better
23%
Will make no difference
31%

Concerns about the economic costs of war extend to the economic costs of rebuilding Iraq once the war is over. Despite their desire to see Saddam Hussein removed, Americans are not inclined to carry the economic load in post-war Iraq. 56% say the U.S. should not pay the cost; 38% say the U.S. should pay.

SHOULD U.S. HELP PAY TO REBUILD POST-WAR IRAQ?

Yes
38%
No
56%

Many Americans do see a war with Iraq as having a direct cost on their safety; 59% expect that a war with Iraq will cause terrorism against the United States to increase. Surprisingly, that view has not escalated in the past few weeks, even as more U.S. troops are moved to the Gulf area, suggesting the possibility of war may be near. Only 12% agree that a war with Iraq will lessen the threat of terrorist attacks in the U.S.

WAR WITH IRAQ WILL MAKE THREAT OF TERRORISM IN U.S….

Increase
59%
Decrease
12
Make no difference
27%

Most Americans do believe that those who disagree with military action in Iraq should be able to express their opinions. Two-thirds of Americans think anti-war protests should be permitted; 25% think they hurt the war effort. Both those who approve of military action and those who disapprove agree.

SHOULD ANTI-WAR PROTESTS BE ALLOWED?

Yes, Americans should be able to protest
66%
No, protests hurt the war effort
25%

In January 1991, at the start of the Persian Gulf War, protests were seen as more detrimental to the war effort.

THE TERRORIST THREAT
Eight in ten adults think it is likely there will be another terrorist attack on the U.S. within the next few months, and one in four are very concerned about an attack occurring where they live. Those who are worried are more likely to live in urban areas.

This is one area where public perception of what the Bush Administration is doing has improved in the past month. Now, 49% of Americans think the Administration has a clear plan when it comes to dealing with terrorism, while 44% think they are just reacting to events as they occur. In January, 43% thought the Administration had a clear plan.

BUSH ADMINISTRATION ON TERRORISM

Has a clear plan:

Now
49%
1/2003
43%

Reacting to events:

Now
44%
1/2003
53%


Government warnings about possible attacks make as many people anxious as provide reassurance, but 62% of Americans think they are useful.

Americans do not yet believe the U.S. is winning the war against terrorism. 38% think the U.S. and its allies are winning that war, but just as many think it is a stalemate. And 18% think the terrorists are winning.

WHO IS WINNING THE WAR ON TERROR?

U.S. and its allies
38%
The terrorists
18%
Neither side
39


THE THREAT FROM NORTH KOREA
A majority of Americans say the threat from North Korea's development of nuclear weapons is one that can be contained, and the public expects the situation to be resolved without fighting. Nonetheless, the public is doubtful that the Bush Administration has a clear plan for dealing with North Korea.

Almost seven in ten say while North Korea's development of weapons is a threat, it is a threat that can be contained. Only 12% think the situation with North Korea requires military action right now; just as many believe North Korea is not a threat to the U.S. at all. Opinions are more mixed when it comes the threat from Iraq.

THE THREAT FROM …

Requires military action now:

North Korea
12%
Iraq
46%

Can be contained:

North Korea
67%
Iraq
44%

Not a threat:

North Korea
11%
Iraq
7%

And while the public thinks war with Iraq is inevitable, it expects the situation with North Korea will be resolved without fighting. 78% say this is the case, compared to just 11% who think the U.S. will end up fighting North Korea. The reverse is true regarding Iraq.

EXPECT U.S. WILL FIGHT AGAINST …

Yes:

North Korea
11%
Iraq
76%

No:

North Korea
78%
Iraq
18%

When asked which of the two counties, Iraq or North Korea, represents the greater threat to peace and stability, by 68% to 20% Americans choose Iraq. The number of people who think Iraq represents a greater threat to peace has increased significantly since last month.

Public enemy number one remains Al Qaeda, however. When asked which of the three – Iraq, North Korea, or Al Qaeda - represents the greatest threat to peace and stability, 51% cite Al Qaeda, 28% say Iraq and 9% say North Korea.

IRAQ, NORTH KOREA OR AL QAEDA: WHICH IS THE GREATER THREAT TO PEACE?

Iraq:

Now
28%
1/2003
22%

North Korea:

Now
9%
1/2003
16%

Al Qaeda:

Now
51%
1/2003
46%

All:

Now
6%
1/2003
11%

The number that says Al Qaeda is the biggest threat has risen slightly in the last month.

Many Americans approve of the way President Bush is handling the situation with North Korea so far. 44% approve of the job he is doing, while 25% disapprove. Nearly a third, however, are unable to rate the President on the issue of North Korea.

BUSH'S HANDLING OF NORTH KOREA

Approve
44%
Disapprove
25%
Don't know
31%

Approval does not mean that the public believes the Administration has a clear plan for dealing with North Korea. In fact, six in ten say the Administration is just reacting to events as they occur, while 28% think the Administration has a clear plan in dealing with North Korea.

DOES THE ADMINISTRATION HAVE A CLEAR PLAN FOR NORTH KOREA?

Yes
28%
No
60

Furthermore, the public also believes the Administration should be doing more in trying to reach a diplomatic solution with North Korea. Half think the Administration should be doing more in the way of diplomacy, while 40% say the Bush Administration is doing all it can.

While Americans appear convinced that diplomacy is the way to go in dealing with North Korea, they are not ruling out military action entirely. If the U.S. were not able to get North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons by diplomatic means, 52% would approve of the U.S. using military action against North Korea; 36% would disapprove.

MILITARY ACTION AGAINST NORTH KOREA IF DIPLOMACY FAILS?

Approve
52%
Disapprove
36%



This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 747 adults, interviewed by telephone February 10-12, 2003. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus four 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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