Poll: POWs Spur Shift In Support

One day after the capture of three U.S. soldiers in Macedonia, there was increased concern that the fighting in Kosovo will spread to other parts of Europe, according to a CBS News poll.

While a majority still opposes the use of U.S. ground troops in a military action, support for ground troops has risen slightly. And two out of three Americans now expect that U.S. ground troops will be sent into Yugoslavia. A majority continues to favor the ongoing U.S. and NATO air strikes there.

In this poll, 65 percent believe U.S. ground troops will be sent into Yugoslavia -- far more than currently favor the introduction of U.S. troops. Only 41 percent say they favor sending ground troops, but that is up from 33 percent earlier this week.

FEARS ABOUT FUTURE OUTCOMES

The capture of U.S. soldiers Steven M. Gonzales, Andrew A. Ramirez, and Christopher Stone has resulted in an increase in expectations about the situation in Kosovo developing into a more widespread European war. Now, 65 percent think it's likely this will happen, up 11 points from a CBS News poll conducted on Sunday. Only a quarter of the public thinks it's not likely that the fighting will spread.

There has also been an increase in the number who expect American lives will be lost in this conflict. Now, 84 percent say that Americans will lose their lives fighting in Kosovo. That is up from 68 percent who thought that as the bombing began. And according to a majority of Americans, loss of U.S. life is a price that is not worth paying for peace in Yugoslavia.

Another change in recent days is the assessment of the importance of what happens in Yugoslavia to U.S. interests. Last Sunday, just 33 percent of the public said what happens in Serbia and Kosovo is very important to the interests of the United States. That figure is now 41 percent.

ASSESSING THE MILITARY ACTION

Americans continue to express the same level of support for the U.S. and NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia as they have since the bombing began. In this poll, by 51 percent to 34 percent, Americans favor the air strikes.

That level of support, however, continues to be lower than the level expressed for other recent U.S. military missions -- most notably the December 1998 air strikes against Iraq.

When asked directly about what actions the U.S. should take as a result of the capture of the U.S. soldiers, more people want increased U.S. military activity in Yugoslavia than want decreased U.S. actions there. Only 9 percent think the U.S. should decrease its military activity, 35 percent want more military action, and 44 percent say the U.S. should continue its current level of activities.

The capture of the U.S. servicemen may have exacerbated some of the usual gender differences on questions of war and peace. Last Sunday, 53 percent of men and 49 percent of women favored the U.S. air strikes on Yugoslavi. On Thursday, support from men increased, while support among women dropped. Now, 59 percent of men favor air strikes, while only 43 percent of women do.

DEALING WITH THE REFUGEES

Two-thirds of the public say the United States has a responsibility to give humanitarian assistance to ethnic Albanian refugees who have been forced out of Kosovo. But more Americans think the U.S. has a responsibility to give humanitarian assistance than think it does to stop the fighting in Kosovo. And 57 percent approve of President Clinton's pledge of $50 million in immediate humanitarian assistance to the refugees.

While the public feels the U.S. has a responsibility to provide humanitarian relief to the Kosovar Albanians, it places the blame for the refugee situation clearly on the shoulders of the Serbs. Only 15 percent of Americans feel the U.S. and NATO air strikes are to blame for the current refugee situation, while 71 percent say the Serbs would have forced the ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo even if there had been no air strikes.

In fact, by nearly three to one, Americans say it is appropriate to describe the Serb actions against the ethnic Albanians as genocide -- the deliberate and systematic elimination of a population. A total of 58 percent say it's appropriate to use the word genocide to describe what's happening in Kosovo, and 20 percent say it's not.

EVALUATING THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF

Approval of President Clinton's handling of the situation in Yugoslavia has remained fundamentally unchanged since the bombing began.

In this poll, 53 percent approve of his handling of the situation in Yugoslavia, while 34 percent disapprove. However, approval of the president's overall handling of foreign policy is down to 51 percent from 60 percent at the start of the bombing.

The president's overall approval rating remains fairly steady. In this poll, 63 percent approve of the way he is handling his job; 30 percent disapprove.

After his speech Thursday, the public's assessment of whether or not he has explained the situation well enough has bounced back. On Sunday, only 41 percent said the president had explained the situation well enough so they understood why the U.S. and NATO have launched air strikes against Serb military targets. Now, 51 percent feel he has explained this well enough.


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 411 adults interviewed by telephone April 1, 1999. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus five percentage points for results based on the entire sample