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Support wanes over new military action against Iraq

Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Date: January 31, 2003

Support for committing American troops to a new war with Iraq has declined significantly in the last three months.

Nearly half of the public is "not certain" that the United States would be correct in sending its military to force Iraq to surrender its suspected weapons of mass destruction, according to a survey of 1,039 adult residents of the United States conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University.

At the same time, President Bush's job-approval rating has fallen to its lowest level since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. His popularity surged in the immediate aftermath. Still, 55 percent currently approve of Bush's performance.

The survey asked: "What if the United States sends troops to Iraq to force it to disarm its weapons of mass destruction? Would you be absolutely certain, pretty certain or not certain that our involvement would be correct?" Twenty-three percent said they were absolutely certain, 27 percent were pretty certain, 45 percent were not certain and 5 percent were undecided.

A similar poll conducted in October found that 38 percent were absolutely certain, 26 percent pretty certain, 33 percent not certain and 3 percent undecided of the correctness of a future Iraqi conflict.

Men were almost twice as likely to support renewed military action against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as were women. Southerners were significantly more supportive than were residents of the Northeast.

But the sharpest division was along political lines. Forty-six percent of those who described themselves as "strong Republicans" said they were absolutely certain a new conflict is justified, compared to 18 percent of self-described "strong Democrats."

Support for military action has declined slightly among conservatives since the October poll, but has generally been cut in half among Democrats and political independents.

The poll found much greater confidence that Saddam is hoarding illegal weapons. When asked, "How certain are you that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction?," 32 percent said they were very certain, 37 percent were pretty certain, 27 percent were not certain and 4 percent were undecided.

Most Americans approve of Bush's performance in office, but that support has become more politically polarized than in other polls conducted after the attacks. In October, Democrats were more likely to approve of Bush than they are today.

In the latest poll, only 27 percent of Democrats said they approved of Bush's handling of the presidency, compared to 91 percent of self-described strong Republicans.

The poll was conducted at the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. Residents of the United States were interviewed by telephone from Jan. 17-30 in a study funded by a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation.

The poll has an overall 4 percentage point margin of error, although the margin increases when examining attitudes among smaller groups within the survey. The margin for how Democrats or Republicans feel about the war, for example, is 8 percent.