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Poll: United We Stand

Support among Americans for the U.S. led military attacks against Afghanistan targets is so strong that many Americans think not even the death or capture of Osama bin Laden should stop the anti-terrorist offensive, according to the latest CBS News Poll.

Sunday's start of U.S.-led attacks on Afghanistan made as many Americans more secure as it made more worried, but the public is more likely now than it was a few weeks ago to think another terrorist attack in the U.S. is very likely.

The attacks also pushed approval ratings of President Bush even higher, with 90 percent now approving of his overall performance, and 92 percent approving of his handling of the attacks. Most Americans reject public criticism of his decisions in military matters as inappropriate, though a majority says that, even now, it's okay to criticize the President when it comes to economic and domestic policy.

Military Action

Eighty-seven percent approve of the U.S.-led attacks on targets in Afghanistan — and only six percent say they disapprove of them. Not only is there overwhelming support for the action, but six in ten Americans also say the timing was right. Twice as many would have started the attack sooner as would have waited longer.

Attacks On Afghanistan

  • Approve: 87%
  • Disapprove: 6%
  • Right Timing: 60%
  • U.S. Should Have Waited: 10%
  • Should Have Taken Place Sooner: 21%

    If anything, the public is willing to have the U.S. expand the conflict to other countries in order to stop other terrorists. Only three percent say it will be enough for the United States simply to kill or capture Bin Laden.

    U.S. Goal For Military Action

  • Kill/Capture Bin Laden:3%
  • Stop Terrorists Elsewhere: 90%

    One indication of the public's strong preference for a military response to the September 11 attacks is that there is less support for the other U.S action in Afghanistan — providing food and humanitarian aid to the people there — than there is for military strikes. However, three in four Americans do approve of that action, though there is less support from those with incomes less than $50,000 than from those with higher incomes.

    Humanitarian Aid To Afghanistan

  • Approve: 78%
  • Disapprove: 16%

    The public expects a long war — one that will take at least a year. Hardly any say that it will be over in a few weeks. At the start of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, only 21 percent of the public expected the war to last as long as a year. More than two-thirds say that will happen in the war against terrorism.

    How Long Will War Last?

  • Few Weeks: 3%
  • Few Months: 28%
  • Year or Longer: 68%

    However, there is a great deal of hopefulness that Bin Laden can be killed or captured, that the alliance that has come together can be kept together, and that there will not be significant loss of either Afghan civilian life or U.S. mlitary life. Majorities say they are "confident" that each of these things will happen. However, only about one in four are "very confident" the war can be fought without significant casualties.

    Confidence In U.S. Government Ability To...
    ...Maintain Alliance
    Confident: 90% Very Confident: 46%
    ...Capture Or Kill Bin Laden
    Confident: 76% Very Confident: 38%
    ...Avoid Significant Afghan Civilian Casualties
    Confident: 72% Very Confident: 24%
    ...Avoid Significant U.S. Military Casualties
    Confident: 77% Very Confident: 28%

    The Emotional Reaction And Expectation Of Terrorism

    Americans are as likely to say that Sunday's beginning of U.S. military attacks made them relieved as made them more worried — a different reaction than the one the public had ten years ago, when the U.S. commenced military actions in Iraq and worry was the dominant emotion. Forty-two percent say that when they heard the news that the U.S. had begun military actions against Afghanistan they were worried, while 41 percent said they were relieved they had actually begun.

    CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
    Reaction To Military Attacks

     Now1/91 (Gulf War)



     Now1/91 (Gulf War)



    CBSNEWS Polls
    There are gender differences in the emotional response to the U.S. attacks. Men are more relieved that the attacks have started than worried about them (49 percent to 32 percent), while women are more worried than relieved (50 percent to 34 percent). Women are more likely than men to admit that they have felt edgy or lost sleep over recent events. Still, one third of men admit that they have been affected by recent events.

    Although the public is as likely to feel relief as worry, more people now than two weeks ago think that another terrorist attack in the United States is very likely. Nearly half percent say that now, compared with 36 percent in the weeks after the September 11 attacks. Only one in ten now say a terrorist attack is not very likely or not likely at all.

    CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
    Likelihood Of Terrorist Attack In U.S. In Next Few Months

    Very Likely



    Somewhat Likely



    Not Very Likely/Not Likely



    CBSNEWS Polls
    However, there is little change in concern about terrorist activity in people's own communities. 30 percent in this poll say they personally are very concerned about an attack in their own community - fundamentally unchanged from the 32 percent who said so a few weeks ago. Women are somewhat more concerned than are men.

    Concerned About Terrorist Attack In Community?
    Yes - Now: 30% — Sept.: 32%
    No - Now: 69% — Sept.: 66%

    There are certainly indications that increasing numbers of Americans think the government ought to do more at home than it has done. Nearly a third say they have a great deal of confidence in the government's ability to protect citizens from terrorism — no improvement from a few weeks ago. And it appears that fewer people now than then think the government has done enough. More than half percent say that in this poll, compared with 61 percent in September.

    Has The U.S. Done Enough To Protect Country From Terrorism?
    Yes - Now 54% — Sept. 61%
    No - Now 36% — Sept. 30%

    Confidence In Government Protecting Citizens From Terrorism
    Great Deal - Now 30% — Sept. 35%
    Fair Amount - Now 55% — Sept. 53%
    Not Much/None - Now 12% — Sept. 11%

    Most people continue to believe that Americans will have to give up personal freedoms to make the U.S. safe from terrorism. Nearly 80 percent say that is necessary, the same percentage as two weeks ago.

    Will U.S. Have To Give Up Freedoms To Be Safe From Terorism?
    Yes - Now 79% — Sept. 79%
    No - Now 17% — Sept. 19%

    The President And The Public

    Americans give President Bush overwhelming approval, both for his overall performance in office and for his handling of the attacks on the United States. His approval is higher in this poll than it was two weeks ago, with 90 percent approving of his overall performance and 92 percent approving of his handling of the attacks.

    Bush Job Aproval
    Overall - Now 90% — Sept. 89%
    Handling Attacks - Now 92% — Sept. 90%

    Americans have traditionally rallied around their President — whoever he is — in times of crisis and in war. In this poll, it's clear that many Americans do not believe it is acceptable to criticize a president in these circumstances. A majority rejects public criticism of a president's military decisions, while more than a third reject public criticism on economic or domestic issues. Older Americans, military veterans, and Southerners are especially likely to object to public criticism of the president; surprisingly, perhaps, there is little difference between Republicans and Democrats on these questions.

    Is Public Criticism Of President Bush Acceptable?

  • On Military Matters — Yes 41% No 54%
  • On Domestic Policy — Yes 58% No 38%

    One area where Presidential activity may have actually changed minds is the President's effort to calm fears of Arab and Muslim-Americans. Two weeks ago, 24 percent of Americans said they held negative feelings towards Arabs because of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. Now just 15 percent say that.

    Negative Feelings Towards Arabs Because Of Attacks?
    Yes - Now 15% Sept. 24%
    No - Now 83% Sept. 74%

    This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 436 adults, interviewed by telephone October 8, 2001. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus five percentage points for results based on the entire sample.

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

    ©MMI CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved

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