The War With Iraq: Changing Views

GENERIC Iraq war anniversary hussein bush
CBS/AP
Two years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq began, Americans are divided over whether military action was right in the first place. There was strong support for the war in 2003, but in the past year opinion has shifted toward the view that that the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq.

In sharp contrast to opinion two years ago, Americans today disapprove of George W. Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq. In April 2003 approval was at a high of 79 percent; approval dropped to 34 percent last May. While approval is higher now, it remains below 50 percent.

Iraq's elections improved perceptions of how the President is handling Iraq, and how U.S. efforts are going there, although not to the levels seen in 2003. Most Americans think the military action may yet fulfill one of its purposes and bring stability and democracy to that country, though they believe it will take at least a few more years to do so.

SUPPORT FOR THE WAR
In the most recent CBS News/New York Times Poll, released earlier this month, 50 percent of Americans said the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq, while 46 percent thought the U.S. did the right thing in taking military action. As the war began, Americans overwhelmingly approved of U.S. action against Iraq; 69 percent said the U.S. did the right thing in taking military action (the highest level of support in our polls for the war).

Support remained high, especially after the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003. However, as the insurgency in Iraq resulted in mounting U.S. and coalition casualties and the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal came to light, support for the war waned. By July 2004, 45 percent thought the action in Iraq was the right thing to do -- the lowest level of support since March 2003. (This figure was matched in January 2005.)

Since then, opinion has remained divided on the war, though support increased during the presidential campaign last September.

DID U.S. DO THE RIGHT THING GOING TO WAR WITH IRAQ?

Right thing
Feb. 2005
46%
Sept. 2004
54%
July 2004
45%
April 2004
47%
March 2004
58%
Dec. 2003
63%
March 2003
69%

Should have stayed out
Feb. 2005
50%
Sept. 2004
39%
July 2004
47%
April 2004
46%
March 2004
37%
Dec. 2003
31%
March 2003
25%

Views on this question have been strongly related to partisanship throughout the past year. Most Republicans say it was the right thing to do, and most Democrats say the U.S. should have stayed out. As has often been the case in the past year, men are a bit more likely than women to say the action was the right thing to do.

THE PRESIDENT AND THE WAR
Today fewer than half the public approves of President Bush's handling of the war with Iraq, but his approval rating has increased five points since Iraq held its election January 30. Forty-five percent now approve of Bush's handling of Iraq, while 50 percent disapprove.

The President won high approval ratings for his handling of the conflict during the major combat phase of the war, with a high of 79 percent approval in April 2003 after the fall of Baghdad. But at the end of the summer of 2003, as U.S. troops continued to take casualties even after the President declared that major combat had ended, more Americans began to disapprove of the President's handling of the situation. There was a brief surge following the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003, but more Americans have disapproved of Bush's handing of the war since March 2004. In May 2004, only 34 percent approved.

BUSH'S HANDLING OF IRAQ

Approve
Feb. 2005
45%
Jan. 2005
40%
May 2004
34%
March 2004
49%
Dec. 2003
59%
Sept. 2003
46%
April 2003
79%

Disapprove
Feb. 2005
50%
Jan. 2005
55%
May 2004
61%
March 2004
43%
Dec. 2003
35%
Sept. 2003
47%
April 2003
17%

VIEWS OF U.S. EFFORTS
The Iraqi election appears to have reversed a decline in Americans' assessment of U.S. efforts to bring stability and democracy to Iraq. Since that election in January, Americans have become more positive about U.S. efforts. In a CBS News/New York Times poll out earlier this month, 53 percent of Americans said things were going well for the U.S. in Iraq -- the highest number in our polls since shortly after the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003. Before Iraq's election, Americans' outlook had been much more dire: in January, 57 percent said U.S. efforts in Iraq were going badly, as majorities had since April 2004.

There were high points in Americans' assessment of U.S. efforts in Iraq. In May 2003, shortly after major combat was declared over, seven in 10 Americans thought things in Iraq were going well. And after the capture of Saddam Hussein, 65 percent said things were going well.

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

Well
Feb. 2005
53%
Jan. 2005
41%
April 2004
38%
Dec. 2003
65%
May 2003
72%

Badly
Feb. 2005
47%
Jan. 2005
57%
April 2004
60%
Dec. 2003
33%
May 2003
24%

While views about how things are going in Iraq have recently become more positive, the public still expects that the transition to democracy in Iraq will not come quickly. Most Americans -- 55 percent -- say Iraq will become a democracy but that the process will take longer than two years, while just 9 percent thought Iraq would become a democratic country within two years. And a sizeable number -- 34 percent -- say Iraq will probably never become a stable democracy.

WILL IRAQ BECOME A STABLE DEMOCRACY?

Yeas, in a year or two
Feb. 2005
9%
Dec. 2003
7%

Yes, but will take longer
Feb. 2005
55%
Dec. 2003
59%

Probably not
Feb. 2005
34%
Dec. 2003
31%

Even though it may take some time for Iraq to become stable, most Americans think U.S. troops should stay there until a stable democracy is created. In the most recent CBS News/New York Times Poll, 55 percent said U.S. troops should remain in Iraq as long as that takes, but four in 10 thought U.S. troops should leave Iraq as soon as possible. This has been the view of Americans in recent months. In the spring of 2004, when fighting in Iraq was intense and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib became public, American opinion was different. In May 2004, just 38 percent thought U.S. troops should remain in Iraq until it was stable -- the lowest number to date. Fifty-five percent said U.S. troops should leave Iraq as soon as possible.

U.S. TROOPS IN IRAQ SHOULD…

Stay as long as it takes
Feb. 2005
55%
Jan. 2005
51%
May 2004
38%
Dec. 2003
56%

Leave as soon as possible
Feb. 2005
40%
Jan. 2005
42%
May 2004
55%
Dec. 2003
35%

WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION
In January, nearly two years into the war, the U.S. officially decided to stop searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Yet many Americans remain convinced that Iraq either has, or did have, the weapons that were never uncovered. In January, 56 percent of Americans said they thought Iraq probably did have weapons of mass destruction that the U.S. simply could not find. While still a majority, this is a significant drop from the 81 percent who, shortly after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, believed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

THINK IRAQ HAD WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION

Probably did
Jan. 2005
56%
April 2003
81%

Probably did not
Jan. 2005
39%
April 2003
12%

IRAQ AND TERRORISM
Many Americans do not think the Iraq war has yet accomplished one of its main objectives, curbing the threat of terrorism against the U.S. According to a January CBS News/New York Times Poll, 47 percent said the war has had no effect on the terror threat to the U.S., and another third thought the threat of terrorism had actually increased as a result of the war. Just 19 percent said the terror threat against the U.S. had decreased.

Few Americans have thought the terror threat had decreased because of the Iraq War, and more have said it had increased. However, that percentage is much lower now than it was during the early phases of the war.

THREAT OF TERRORISM AGAINST U.S. AS A RESULT OF IRAQ WAR

Increased
Jan. 2005
33%
April 2004
41%
March 2003
59%

Decreased
Jan. 2005
19%
April 2004
18%
March 2003
8%

Stayed the same
Jan. 2005
47%
April 2004
39%
March 2003
32%



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