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Poll: After Saddam's Capture

The immediate impact of the capture of Saddam Hussein by U.S. troops includes improvements in public perception of how the war is going for the U.S. in Iraq, whether it has been worth it, and assessments of President Bush's handling of Iraq.

Yet, the public is divided over whether the capture of Saddam Hussein means the U.S. has won the war in Iraq, and despite Saddam Hussein's arrest, few believe the war is over or that this country is now safer from terrorism.

In the last few days, there has been a double-digit rise in President Bush's rating on handling Iraq, some improvement in his overall approval rating, and a large shift in the public's mood. But so far, the President has made only small gains in his race for re-election, and personal evaluations of him and his domestic programs have changed little.

In CBS News/New York Times polling conducted December 10-13, the four days before the former Iraqi leader's arrest, Bush's job approval rating was 52 percent. In the two days after U.S. forces captured Saddam Hussein, the President's overall approval rating rose modestly to 58 percent, with 33 percent disapproving. Bush's approval rating is his highest since last July.

BUSH'S JOB APPROVAL
After Saddam's Capture
Approve
58%
Disapprove
33%

Before Saddam's Capture
Approve
52%
Disapprove
40%

IS THE WAR OVER?
Americans are not yet ready to declare victory in Iraq. In the interviews conducted after the capture of Saddam Hussein, the public is evenly divided over whether the U.S. can now declare victory in Iraq. 46 percent say the U.S. has won the war in Iraq, but 47 percent say it has not.

HAS THE U.S. WON THE WAR?
Has won
46%
Has not won
47%

One thing is clear -- the public does not think the capture of Saddam Hussein or even the perception of an overall victory means the end of the fighting or a U.S. role in Iraq. Nearly nine in ten Americans say the war is still going on, while just one in ten thinks the war is over, responses very similar to what the public thought three months ago.

IS THE WAR IN IRAQ STILL GOING ON?
12/14-15
War is still going on
86%
War is over
11%

9/2003
War is going on
87%
War is over
10%

ASSESSMENTS OF THE WAR IN IRAQ
The U.S. capture of Saddam came at a time of declining domestic support for the war in Iraq. Immediately before the capture of Saddam Hussein, the public offered its lowest assessments ever of whether the war was worth it. Less than half said that removing Saddam from power was worth the cost.

But in the polling conducted in the two days since Saddam Hussein's capture, 54 percent say removing Saddam Hussein from power was worth the costs of war, including the loss of American lives. However, the current level of support is still lower than it was in May.

REMOVING SADDAM HUSSEIN FROM POWER WAS…
Worth It
After Saddam's Capture
54%
Before Saddam's Capture
47%
11/03
50%
5/03
65%

Not Worth It
After
37%
Before
43%
11/03
43%
5/03
28%

Overall evaluations of the result of the war (in a question that did not mention Saddam Hussein) also improved after the capture. Beforehand, 39 percent said the result of the war was worth the costs, the lowest number ever on this question. That rose to 44 percent after Saddam's capture.

THE RESULT OF THE WAR IN IRAQ IS…
Worth It
After Saddam's capture
44%
Before Saddam's capture
39%
11/03
40%
8/03
46%

Not Worth It
After Saddam's capture
49%
Before Saddam's capture
54%
11/03
51%
8/03
45%

Two-thirds now say U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq are going well -- the highest since May, just after President Bush declared that major combat in Iraq was over. Before Saddam was captured, less than half, 47 percent, thought the U.S. efforts were going well, and over half said they were going badly.

U.S. EFFORTS TO REBUILD IRAQ ARE GOING…
Very well
After Saddam's capture
12%
Before Saddam's capture
6%
11/03
5%
5/03
11%

Somewhat well
After Saddam's capture
53%
Before Saddam's capture
41%
11/03
42%
5/03
61%

Somewhat badly
After Saddam's capture
21%
Before Saddam's capture
33%
11/03
28%
5/03
19%

Very badly
After Saddam's capture
10%
Before Saddam's capture
18%
11/03
22%
5/03
5%

For most Americans, the war remains the right thing to have begun. A majority still believes that the United States did the right thing in getting militarily involved in Iraq. 63 percent now say the U.S. did the right thing; these numbers were similar immediately before Saddam Hussein was captured.

DID THE U.S. DO THE RIGHT THING IN TAKING MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAQ?
Yes, did the right thing
After Saddam's capture
63%
Before Saddam's capture
64%
3/2003
69%

No, should have stayed out
After Saddam's capture
31%
Before Saddam's capture
28%
3/2003
25%

But the public disagrees on whether Iraq posed a threat to the U.S. that required immediate military action: 44 percent now think so, but 37 percent think Iraq was a threat that could have been contained without military action, and 15 percent don't think Iraq was a threat to the U.S. These assessments are unchanged since July.

LOOKING AHEAD IN IRAQ
The capture of Saddam has not made Americans much more optimistic about the likelihood of troops leaving that country anytime soon. More than three-quarters think U.S. troops will have to remain in Iraq for more than one year, with 43 percent expecting troops to stay at least two years. Just 15 percent believe U.S. troops will leave Iraq within a year.

HOW LONG WILL U.S. TROOPS HAVE TO REMAIN IN IRAQ?
Less than one year 15%
One to two years 34%
Two to five years 31%
More than five years 12%

These estimates are mostly unchanged since last summer.

Americans support keeping the troops in Iraq as long as it takes to ensure stability in the country, and the capture has not changed that sentiment. Today, 56 percent want U.S. troops to stay in Iraq as long as it takes, while 35 percent think the U.S. should turn things over to the Iraqis as soon as possible, even if it means Iraq is not stable. In the four days prior to Saddam Hussein's capture, 54 percent thought U.S. troops should remain in Iraq until Iraq is stable, and 40 percent said U.S. troops should leave as soon as possible.

U.S. TROOPS IN IRAQ SHOULD:
Stay until Iraq is stable
After Saddam's capture
56%
Before Saddam's Capture
54%

Leave as soon as possible
After Saddam's capture
35%
Before Saddam's capture
40%

SADDAM HUSSEIN'S ROLE IN TERROR AND TROOP ATTACKS
In the days leading up to Saddam Hussein's capture, as attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq continued, a large majority of the American public believed that Saddam Hussein was behind these attacks -- and they also believed that the U.S. could not win the war in Iraq without capturing or killing the former Iraqi dictator.

They still believe that the former dictator was behind those attacks.

IS SADDAM INVOLVED IN THE ATTACKS ON U.S. TROOPS IN IRAQ?
Yes
After Saddam's capture
68%
Before Saddam's capture
72%

No
After Saddam's capture
24%
Before Saddam's capture
17%

However, the public expresses mixed views on the impact of Saddam's capture. Half say it will not make any difference in the attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq, and more think the attacks on U.S. troops will now decrease than expect them to increase.

AS A RESULT OF CAPTURING SADDAM, THE FOLLOWING THREATS WILL:
Attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq
Increase 19%
Decrease 24%
Same 52%

Terrorist threat against U.S.
Increase 18%
Decrease 19%
Same 60%

Six in ten think capturing the former Iraqi dictator will make no difference in the terrorist threats against the U.S. The rest of the public divides over whether terrorist threats against the U.S. will now increase or decrease.

In recent months, Americans were becoming increasingly concerned that victory in Iraq would require Saddam's capture. Immediately before that happened, six in ten Americans said the U.S. could not win the war if Saddam Hussein were never captured or killed, up 20 points from April, when 42 percent said that.

BEFORE THE CAPTURE: WILL THE U.S. HAVE WON IN IRAQ IF SADDAM IS NEVER CAPTURED OR KILLED?
Yes
12/10-13
29%
4/2003
51%

No
12/10-13
62%
4/2003
42%

THE IMPACT ON THE PRESIDENT
Prior to Saddam's capture, President Bush's job approval rating was holding steady at just over 50 percent, with evaluations of the job he was doing handling the economy, Iraq and foreign policy slightly lower, and assessment of his handling of terrorism somewhat higher.

Hussein's arrest has improved some of those ratings, especially those related to foreign policy and Iraq. But there appears to be no real movement in personal assessment of Bush, or on the evaluation of several domestic policy matters. And there is only a small boost in support for the President's re-election.

Saddam Hussein's arrest also gave Bush a slight boost in some specific areas. Immediately prior to the arrest, the public's views of the way Bush was handling some of the specific elements of his job drew mixed reviews, with one exception -- terrorism. Two-thirds approved of the way the President was handling terrorism, higher than his overall approval, but still his lowest approval rating on that question ever.

APPROVE OF BUSH ON:
Terrorism
After capture 68%
Before capture 64%

Iraq
After capture 59%
Before capture 45%

Foreign policy
After capture 52%
Before capture 45%

Economy
After capture 49%
Before capture 44%

Overall
After capture 58%
Before capture 52%

After Saddam's capture, the President's approval ratings rose most on foreign policy and on his handling of Iraq. The latter assessment, which had been below 50 percent since July, rose from 45 percent before Saddam's arrest to 59 percent in the days afterwards. His foreign policy rating rose from 45 percent to 52 percent.

As mentioned earlier, the President's overall job approval rating rose 6 points following the capture of Saddam, to 58 percent. Views of the president were and remain highly partisan, but there has been improvement among Democrats. Before Saddam's capture, 91 percent of Republicans approved of the job he is doing, while only 28 percent of Democrats did and Independents were split. After the arrest, 91 percent of Republicans approved of Bush, as did 35 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Independents.

The president has risen in the eyes of both Democrats and Republicans on his handling of Iraq and foreign policy. Before Saddam's capture, 26 percent of Democrats approved of his handling of Iraq; in the days after Saddam's arrest, 35 percent approved. Similarly, approval among Democrats on Bush's handling of foreign policy rose from 20 percent to 29 percent. There was an 8-point increase in approval of his handling of Iraq among Republicans.

But personal views of the president have changed little with the arrest of Saddam. As they were at the end of last week, the public remains mixed and highly partisan: 48 percent of the public has a favorable opinion of the president, and 31 percent has an unfavorable opinion. 86 percent of Republicans have a favorable view, and 56 percent of Democrats view Bush unfavorably. 38 percent of Independents have a positive image of Bush.

THE 2004 VOTE
In polling conducted in the four days leading up to Hussein's arrest, President Bush held just a one-point edge in a 2004 Election match-up with an unnamed Democratic contender. That advantage has now increased, thought not significantly, to a four-point edge in the two days since the capture. That change is within the poll's margin of error.

NOVEMBER 2004 VOTE
(Among registered voters)
After capture, 12/14-15
Bush 44%
Democrat 40%

Before capture, 12/10-13
Bush 42%
Democrat 41%

Last week, most voters said they were already sure how they would cast their ballot next November. 63 percent of voters who expressed a choice in the 2004 match-up said their mind was made up, and only 36 percent said it was still too soon to say whom they would vote for. After the capture, those sentiments remain much the same: 64 percent say their mind is made up, and 35 percent say it is still too soon to say.

But more voters now predict a Bush win next November. 61 percent think Bush will prevail; in September, 50 percent felt that way.

THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION AND IRAQ
Americans are divided over whether the U.S. was too quick to go to war with Iraq. 43 percent now say the Bush Administration was too quick to get the U.S. militarily involved in Iraq; another 42 percent think the timing was about right, and 12 percent say the U.S. was too slow to take military action. These numbers were similar before Saddam Hussein was captured.

WAS THE ADMINISTRATION TOO QUICK TO GO TO WAR WITH IRAQ?

After capture
Too quick
43%
Too slow
12%
Timing was about right
42%

Before capture
Too quick
47%
Too slow
13%
Timing was about right
37%

Americans continue to believe the Bush Administration was less than forthcoming with the public when it comes to what it knew before the war. 45 percent now believe the Administration was hiding important elements of what it knew about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and another 16 percent say it was mostly lying. 29 percent now think the Administration was telling the American public all or most of what it knew, down from before the capture of Saddam Hussein, when 37 percent said so, and down even more from a month ago, when that figure was 44 percent.

BEFORE THE WAR, THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION WAS…
Telling all/most of what it knew
After capture 29%
Before capture 37%
11/2003 44%

Hiding important elements
After capture 45%
Before capture 42%
11/2003 37%

Mostly lying about weapons
After capture 16%
Before capture 16%
11/2003 16%

One of the president's personal strengths has been the public's perception of his integrity; this has been unaffected by Saddam's capture, or by doubts about the Administration's honesty in this case. Now, 52 percent think Bush has more honesty and integrity than most people in public life, 12 percent think he has less, and 26 precent think he has about the same amount.

THE ADMINISTRATION'S PLANS FOR REBUILDING IRAQ AND FIGHTING TERROR
The capture of Saddam Hussein may have improved public evaluation of whether the Bush Administration has a clear plan for rebuilding Iraq -- though not by much. 34 percent now say the Administration has a clear plan in Iraq, up from 28 percent before the former Iraqi dictator was captured. Now, just as throughout the fall, a majority doubts that the Administration has a plan for the rebuilding.

DOES THE ADMINISTRATION HAVE A CLEAR PLAN FOR REBUILDING IRAQ?
Yes
After capture 34%
Before capture 28%
11/2003 31%
9/2003 22%
4/2003 42%

No
After capture 53%
Before capture 61%
11/2003 60%
9/2003 64%
4/2003 45%

43 percent now think the Bush Administration does have a clear plan for its campaign against terrorism, although another 46 percent say it is merely reacting to events as they occur. Before the capture of Saddam Hussein, 55 percent said the Administration lacked a clear plan.

DOES THE ADMINISTRATION HAVE A CLEAR PLAN FOR ITS CAMPAIGN AGAINST TERRORISM?
Yes
After capture 43%
Before capture 37%
9/2002 39%

No
After capture 46%
Before capture 55%
9/2002 52%

DOMESTIC POLICY: NO IMPROVEMENTS POST-CAPTURE
Saddam's capture has not changed what voters say matters most to voters in the upcoming election: the economy. Both before and after the capture, the economy was the top issue named by voters when asked what they would most like to hear the candidates discuss next year. Saddam's capture did affect one thing: fewer voters now are interested in hearing what the candidates have to say about the war.

IN CAMPAIGN 2004 THE CANDIDATES SHOULD TALK ABOUT…
(Among registered voters)
The economy/jobs
After capture 25%
Before capture 22%

War/foreign policy
After capture 8%
Before capture 17%

Healthcare/Medicare
After capture 16%
Before capture 15%

Terrorism
After capture 1%
Before capture 1%

Views of the economy were becoming more positive before the capture of Saddam. In November, 50 percent rated the economy as being in good condition; now, 55 percent think it is doing well. 41 percent now rated it negatively, compared with 48 percent then. This is the most optimistic assessment of the economy since July 2002. In addition, 39 percent think the economy is on the upswing, 19 percent think it is getting worse, and 39 percent see it as holding steady.

VIEWS OF THE ECONOMY
Good
Now 55%
11/2003 50%
7/2003 45%
7/2002 56%

Bad
Now 41%
11/2003 48%
7/2003 52%
7/2002 43%

Saddam's capture had little impact on the public's perceptions of the economy.

But the two signature pieces of Bush's domestic legislation – tax cuts and Medicare reform -- are not widely seen as having a positive impact. 27 percent think the Bush tax cuts have been good for the economy, 16 percent think they have been bad for the economy, and 49 percent think they have made no difference. These views have changed little since early 2002.

BUSH TAX CUTS' EFFECT ON ECONOMY
Good 27%
Bad 16%
No effect 49%

The same is true about the recent Medicare bill providing prescription drug coverage for seniors. This poll -- both before and after the weekend's events -- shows no broad public belief that the new legislation will improve seniors' lives -- with seniors themselves just as negative. Just 24 percent of Americans think most senior citizens will be better off under the new rules than they were before, and 15 percent think seniors will be made worse off as a result.

NEW MEDICARE RULES WILL MAKE SENIORS…
Better off
Total 24%
Age 65+ 25%

Worse off
Total 15%
Age 65+ 12%

No difference
Total 35%
Age 65+ 41%

Few seniors see much benefit in the new rules. 25 percent of those aged 65 and over think they will be better off than they are now, but 12 percent think they will be worse off, and 41 percent think there will be no impact. 23 percent don't know.

Even Republicans demonstrate lukewarm enthusiasm for the President's Medicare reforms. 39 percent of Republicans think the changes will cause seniors to be better off, and 26 percent think it will have no effect.

However, the Bush Administration is getting increasing credit for improving seniors' prescription drug coverage. In this poll, 34 percent think the Administration has made a lot or some progress in reducing the cost of prescription drugs for seniors, far more than the 19 percent who thought that in May.

ADMINISTRATION'S PROGRESS ON SENIORS' DRUG COVERAGE
Now
A lot 5%
Some 29%
Not much 18%
No progress 28%

5/2003
A lot 2%
Some 17%
Not much 21%
No progress 38%

DIRECTION OF THE COUNTRY
One important indicator of the public's mood has improved since Saddam's arrest: views of the country's direction. Prior to Saddam's capture, 39 percent thought the country was headed in the right direction, and more -- 56 percent -- thought it was on the wrong track. In the days after Saddam's capture, the public is more optimistic, with 49 percent saying the country is headed in the right direction, and 43% thinking it is on the wrong track.

COUNTRY'S DIRECTION
Right direction
After capture
49%
Before capture
39%

Wrong track
After capture
43%
Before capture
56%

In recent months these views have been strongly correlated with views of the economy; those who think the economy is doing well see the country as going in the right direction, while those who think it is bad view the country as on the wrong track. As positive assessments of the economy increase, so should assessment of the direction of the country.

Views of the war in Iraq also correlate with views on the country's direction. 74 percent of those who think removing Saddam was worth the costs see the country as on the right track, while 69 percent of those who say that effort was not worthwhile think the country is on the wrong track.

THE MOURNER-IN-CHIEF
Two-thirds of Americans think President Bush should attend some of the funerals for military personnel killed in Iraq; about a quarter say that would not be necessary.

SHOULD BUSH ATTEND MILITARY FUNERALS OF SOLDIERS KILLED IN IRAQ?
Yes 66%
No 27%

The public seems unclear about whether the President has attended any of the military funerals, however. While just under a quarter of Americans know, correctly, that the President has not attended any military funerals so far, 26 percent think he has, and half do not know.

Separately, six in ten Americans think the public should be allowed to see pictures of the military honor guard receiving caskets of soldiers killed in Iraq as they are returned to the U.S., but a quarter disagree.

SHOULD THE PUBLIC BE ALLOWED TO SEE PICTURES OF CASKETS OF SOLDIERS KILLED IN IRAQ?
Yes 62%
No 27%

OSAMA BIN LADEN
Regarding the war in Afghanistan, a major front in the broader war on terror, six in ten Americans now say that war cannot be won without the U.S. either capturing or killing Osama bin Laden. The public has consistently expressed this view since January 2002.

CAN THE U.S. WIN THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN WITHOUT CAPTURING OR KILLING OSAMA BIN LADEN?
Yes
25%
No
62%



The December 14-15, 2003 poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 635 adults interviewed by telephone. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus four percentage points for results based on the entire sample.

The December 10-13, 2003 poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1057 adults interviewed by telephone. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample.

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