Americans Optimistic About Iraq, But Want Troops Home

President Obama is announcing his plans for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq in an environment in which Americans are increasingly optimistic about how things are going for the U.S. there.

But while assessments of the war are now more positive, a solid majority of the public would like to see U.S. troops out of Iraq within 16 months. (The president is expected to announce that many U.S. troops will withdraw within 19 months, though up to 50,000 will remain.)

According to a CBS News/New York Times poll released on February 23rd, 63 percent of Americans say U.S. efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq are going very or somewhat well, a sentiment approaching levels not reached since December 2003, immediately after the capture of Saddam Hussein.

This evaluation is a reversal from a year ago, when just 43 percent of Americans described things in Iraq as going well.

Americans began feeling more positive about the situation in Iraq last fall. In September 2008, 52 percent said things were going well – the first time a majority said so since February 2005 (53 percent), shortly after Iraqi elections were held.

The public gave the war in Iraq its most positive marks in May 2003, shortly after then-President George W. Bush announced major combat operations in Iraq were over. Back then, 72 percent of Americans thought things were going well in Iraq.

Assessments of the Iraq war reached their lowest point in June 2007, when only 22 percent said things in that country were going somewhat well (including just 1 percent who said U.S. efforts were going "very well"). May 2007 saw the largest number of U.S. fatalities in Iraq in nearly three years.

In recent years, Americans have been divided over the Iraq war along party lines, with Republicans mostly positive about U.S. efforts and the Democrats holding negative views. However, the latest CBS News/New York times poll shows a marked increase in optimism among Democrats. 52 percent of them now say things are going well in Iraq for the U.S. – more than twice as many than thought so a year ago. 74 percent of Republicans think the war is going well.

(By Party ID)

Among Democrats
Now: 52%
12/2008: 50%
2/2008: 24%
9/2007: 12%
6/2007: 8%

Among Republicans
Now: 74%
12/2008: 69%
2/2008: 69%
9/2007: 60%
6/2007: 52%

Both men and women are now more positive about how things are going in Iraq compared to a year ago, but men (70 percent) remain more optimistic than women (55 percent). Optimism about U.S. efforts in Iraq is up among all age groups.

Even though views of the Iraq war have improved, 78 percent Americans think it is important that most U.S. combat troops are withdrawn from Iraq within 16 months, including 46 percent who think it is very important. President Obama is expected to announce a plan that will withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq in 19 months.

Very: 46%
Somewhat: 32%
Not too/at all: 18%

66 percent of Democrats think it is very important to remove combat troops from Iraq within 16 months, compared to just 28 percent of Republicans who say that. Another four in 10 Republicans do say it is somewhat important to remove U.S. troops.

More women than men think it is very important that U.S. troops come home from Iraq within 16 months.

Democrats: 66%
Republicans: 28%
Independents: 39%
Men: 40%
Women: 52%

There is evidence that the American public is confident in President Obama when it comes to the situation in Iraq. A month into his presidency, 54 percent approve of the way he is handling the issue (even 45 percent of Republicans approve), significantly higher than George W. Bush's final rating on Iraq. As he was leaving office, just 25 percent of Americans approved of his handling of the war in Iraq.

Jennifer De Pinto is manager of election and survey information for CBS News.