Shifting Opinions On Iraq

Max Motors - Website Max Motors - Website

Analysis by Jennifer De Pinto and Jinghua Zou based on polling data from the CBS News poll and the CBS News/New York Times poll.

Much has changed in public opinion on the Iraq war over the last year: today Americans are less convinced that Iraq posed an immediate threat, or that it harbored weapons of mass destruction, than they were in the spring of 2003. And President Bush, who had rallied much of the nation to his side and to the war effort as the fighting began, has seen his own poll numbers drop dramatically since then – both overall and in his handling of Iraq.

Yet while support for the U.S. action has declined from one year ago, it has by no means gone away. Fewer today than one year ago believe the war was the right thing to do, but most Americans still say that it was. Half believe there are weapons of mass destruction still to be found. And as they look back, few Americans today - as then – believe that Iraq had never posed any threat to the U.S. at all.

PRESIDENT BUSH AND THE WAR

As the war with Iraq got underway, the American public rallied behind George W. Bush. On March 20th, the day immediately after the U.S. military's first attack on Iraq, 67% approved of the job Bush was doing as President; just a week earlier, his job approval had been 58%.

Following the fall of Baghdad, 73% of Americans approved of Bush's overall job performance – his war-time high.

Yet from that point forward, with increasing coalition casualties and Americans voicing concern about the economy back home, the President's overall job approval rating started to decline. By August, 55% of Americans approved of his job performance, and currently 51% approve. This is up slightly from 47% last month -- the lowest approval rating of his presidency.

BUSH'S OVERALL JOB RATINGS
3/2004
Approve
51%
Disapprove
42%

2/2004
Approve
47%
Disapprove
44%

8/2003
Approve
55%
Disapprove
35%

4/2003
Approve
73%
Disapprove
21%

3/2003
Approve
67%
Disapprove
31%

During the major combat phase of the war, Americans overwhelmingly approved of the way the President was dealing with events in Iraq. After the President gave an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq, 63% of Americans said they approved of the way Bush was handling the situation. This number rose still higher during the war, reaching its zenith in April 2003, when eight in 10 Americans approved of the way Bush was handling events in Iraq.

But in the of summer of 2003, after Bush declared that major combat had ended but U.S. troops continued to take casualties, those numbers began to wane. In July 2003, 58% approved of Bush's handling the situation and that figure fell to 48% by November. It surged back up to 59% following the capture of Saddam Hussein in December, but the boost proved to be short-lived for the President: by January 48% Americans approved of how he was handling events in Iraq, and that rating stands at 49% today.

ASSESSING THE THREAT

Looking back one year later, more Americans now say Iraq was a threat that could have been contained than say it was a threat needing immediate military action. This is a reversal from the early days of the war, when Americans saw the threat quite differently: in March 2003 six in ten said the Iraqi threat required immediate action. However today, as then, few say Iraq was no threat at all.

IRAQ WAS A THREAT THAT…
3/2004
Required immediate military action
42%
Could have been contained
45%
Was not a threat
12%

2/2004
Required immediate military action
44%
Could have been contained
37%
Was not a threat
15%

4/2003
Required immediate military action
58%
Could have been contained
32%
Was not a threat
8%

3/2003
Required immediate military action
60%
Could have been contained
31%
Was not a threat
7%

Yet despite these changing assessments of the threat, a majority – 58%
- still says the U.S. did the right thing in going to war with Iraq. However, this number is significantly lower than it was in the early days of the war: then, 69% said the U.S. was right to start military action against Iraq. And since then, an increasing number has said the U.S. should have stayed out, but this figure remains under 40%.

DID U.S. DO THE RIGHT THING GOING TO WAR WITH IRAQ?
3/2004
Yes, right thing
58%
No, should have stayed out
37%

2/2004
Yes, right thing
54%
No, should have stayed out
39%

12/2003
Yes, right thing
63%
No, should have stayed out
31%

3/2003
Yes, right thing
69%
No, should have stayed out
25%

WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION

During the initial invasion last year, large majorities of Americans believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. One year later, with no large cache of weapons yet found, the number who thinks Iraq has weapons of mass destruction has declined. In April 2003, 81% thought Iraq probably possessed weapons of mass. That number has dropped precipitously since then, but most - 52% - currently say that Iraq probably has weapons of mass destruction that the U.S. has not yet uncovered.

DOES IRAQ HAVE WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION?
2/2004
Probably does
52%
Probably doesn't
39%

11/2003
Probably does
62%
Probably doesn't
31%

4/2003
Probably does
81%
Probably doesn't
12%

A majority of Americans now believe the Bush Administration exaggerated the intelligence it received about weapons of mass destruction to build support for the war. 59% say the administration exaggerated intelligence findings, while a third (32%) thinks the Administration interpreted the intelligence information accurately.

BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S HANDLING OF INTELLIGENCE ON IRAQI WEAPONS:
2/2004
Interpreted accurately
32%
Exaggerated to build support for war
59%

However, many Americans think it no longer matters whether weapons in Iraq are ever found. In February, 53% said it did not matter and just 44% said it did. This view was down from June of 2003, when nearly six in 10 Americans said that it mattered whether or not the U.S. found weapons.

WAR IN IRAQ AND TERRORISM

Although there is no consensus on whether the war in Iraq has made the U.S. safer from the threat of terrorism, as President Bush has asserted, far more Americans (42%) think the war in Iraq has made the U.S. safer than say the war has made it less safe (19%). But another third say the war has made no difference in this regard, and positive assessment on the war's impact on U.S. safety is down slightly from January: then, half said the U.S. was safer from terrorism as a result of the war.

It appears that as the war went on, the public became somewhat less concerned that the war in Iraq would bring on increased terrorist threats against the U.S. In the months leading up to the war, a majority of Americans consistently expressed concern that terrorist threats against the U.S. would increase should the U.S. decide to take military action against Iraq.

Last March, immediately after the war began, 59% said such threats would increase. But that concern started to ease after the U.S. took control of Baghdad last April. By fall, just over half of Americans said the threat of terrorism against the U.S. has stayed about the same as a result of the war in Iraq. What effect last week's terrorist attack in Madrid may have on this question remains to be seen.
  • Joel Roberts

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.