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Poll: Bush Ratings Still High

Americans continue to give President Bush high ratings, both overall and for his handling of events in the Middle East, even though most believe he does not have a clear plan for his policy there but is reacting to events as they occur. The public continues to sympathize more with Israel in the conflict, but doubts either side wants peace, and is divided on what the U.S. can and should do.

The Bush Administration's lack of attention to the Middle East prior to the outbreak of fighting last month may have led people to believe the conflict caught the Administration without a clear strategy for the region. Two-thirds of the public think Bush is reacting to events there as they occur. 26% think Bush has a clear plan for dealing with the area.

Bush's Policy In Middle East
Clear plan 26%
Reacting to events 65

Nevertheless, the perceived lack of a clear Middle East strategy has not hurt evaluations of Bush's handling of the situation between Israel and the Palestinians. 58% approve of his handling of the conflict, and 27% disapprove.

Bush's Handling Of Middle East Conflict
Approve 58%
Disapprove 27

What Can Be Done?

As has been the case since the fighting began last month, Americans are divided on what the U.S. role in resolving the conflict should be. 43% think the U.S. has a responsibility to try to resolve the fighting there, but 47%, think the U.S. does not.

Does U.S. Have Responsibility In Middle East?
Yes 43%
No 47

48% think establishing peace in the Middle East is something the American government cannot do anything about.

39% think the U.S. should publicly support Israel. However, nearly as many Americans think the U.S. should say nothing to Israel.

Americans continue to be more critical of Yasser Arafat; 33% now think the U.S. should publicly criticize the Palestinian leader. Still, slightly more -- 40% -- think the U.S. should say nothing to him.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls

Publicly support



Publicly criticize



Say nothing




The public thinks the conflict in the Middle East is at an impasse, with neither side willing to make concessions in order to obtain peace. While the Israeli government is viewed as more willing than Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to make concessions for peace, the percentage who think Israel is not willing to do so outnumbers the percentage who think it is willing to compromise.

Do They Want Peace Enough To Make Concessions?

  • Israeli Government
    Yes 33%
    No 53
  • Arafat
    Yes 11%
    No 79

    One probable reason for the harsh views of Arafat is that nearly all Americans think Arafat is not doing his part to stop the suicide bombings committed by Palestinians against Israelis. While 59% think Arafat is unable to completely control the actions of Palestinians, 88% think he could do more to stop the bombings.

    The public continues to side with the Israelis in this conflict. 47% support Israel, and 17% support the Palestinians.

    Who Do You Sympathize With More?
    Israel 47%
    Palestinians 17
    Neither 14

    39% support the establishment of a Palestinian homeland in the West Bank and Gaza strip, and 30% oppose it.

    Establishing Palestinian Homeland
    Favor 39%
    Oppose 30

    The War In Afghanistan

    The public is less optimistic about America's other major foreign involvement right now, the war in Afghanistan. Capturing Osama bin Laden is seen as a prerequisite to winning the war, and decreasing numbers think that war is going well.

    Most Americans (81%) think Osama bin Laden is still alive, and a growing number believe the U.S. will not have won the war in Afghanistan unless he is captured or killed. Now, 67% think the U.S. won't win without finding bin Laden, up from 59% in February. 23% think the U.S. will have won without capturing or killing bin Laden, down from 32% in February.

    Can U.S. Win War Without Capturing Or Killing Bin Laden?

  • Now
  • 2/02
    Yes 32%
    No 59

    That may be the reason why a decreasing majority of Americans think the war there is going well for the U.S. 73% now say it is going very or somewhat well; in January, 89% felt that way. The number who think the war is going very well is less than half of what it was in January.

    CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls

    Very well



    Somewhat well



    Very/somewhat badly 20



    CBSNEWS Polls

    72% think it is likely that the fighting in Afghanistan will spread to a larger war between Western countries and Muslim countries. That view has been consistent since last December.

    Concern about another terrorist attack has also changed little since December; 72% now think it is very or somewhat likely there will be another terrorist attack in the next few months; 25% think that is very likely. 56% think international terrorism is the more serious threat to Americans, while 30% think domestic terrorism is more serious.

    The Economy

    Although terrorism still tops the list of problems the public wants the President and Congress to address, the economy and jobs ranks second, cited by 15%. Far fewer mention other domestic issues such as education, Social Security or taxes.

    Most Important Problem
    Terrorism, war 23%
    Economy, jobs 15
    Education 5
    Social Security 4
    Taxes 4

    There are some signs that the public perceives the economy as improving. 66% of Americans rate the economy as good now, and 34% think it is bad. In February, 53% thought it was good, and 45% thought it was bad. But the real optimism lies in Americans' views of the near future; 31% think the economy is getting better, up from 18% in January.

    Economy Is Getting:

  • Now
    Better 31%
    Worse 18
    Same 51
  • 1/02
    Better 18%
    Worse 33
    Same 48

    But views of the President, the economy, and developments overseas aren't providing much guidance right now on what the central issues will be in the upcoming midterm elections. Among registered voters, 40% say they plan to vote for the Republican candidate in their district this fall, and 40% plan to vote for the Democrat.

    The President

    As with evaluations of his handling of the Middle East, other aspects of Bush's presidency have remained stable in the past month. 80% approve of his handling of the campaign against terrorism, 77% approve of his overall job performance, and 63% approve of the way Bush is handling foreign policy. The one negative note for Bush is the evaluation of his handling of the economy. Far fewer -- 52% -- approve of Bush's handling of the economy, and that number has dropped steadily since last fall.

    CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls

    Handling campaign against terrorism






    Handling foreign policy



    Handling the economy



    CBSNEWS Polls

    The Trade Embargo Against Cuba

    While the Bush opposes ending the trade embargo against Cuba, the American public is split on the issue. Now, 46% think the U.S. government should continue the trade embargo that it imposed years ago, however, almost as many - 44% - think the trade embargo should end.

    CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls











    CBSNEWS Polls

    But back in 1996, more than half of Americans favored continuing the trade embargo against Cuba. Early that year, Cuban MiGs shot down two small American civilian planes operated by a Cuban-American group that were flying north of Cuba. In 1998, the number supporting an end to the embargo increased; perhaps due to Pope John Paul the Second's historic visit to Cuba. The Pope opposes the trade embargo against Cuba.

    There are party differences when it comes to trade policy in Cuba. 57% of Republicans would like the trade embargo against Cuba to continue, while 52% of Democrats think the embargo should end.

    This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 647 adults, interviewed by telephone May 13-14, 2002. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus four percentage points for results based on the entire sample.

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

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