Newsweek Poll: Americans are Increasingly Pessimistic About the US Mission in Iraq
Published on Saturday, August 23, 2003 by Newsweek
When is Enough Enough?
In a new Newsweek poll, Americans say they’re spending too much in Iraq with too little to show for it. And with the 2004 approaching, Bush is losing ground
by Jennifer Barrett

Aug. 23 — Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the U.S. mission in Iraq, saying the United States should reduce its spending and scale back its efforts there, according to the latest NEWSWEEK poll.

SIXTY-NINE PERCENT of Americans polled say they are very concerned (40 percent) or somewhat concerned (29 percent) that the United States will be bogged down for many years in Iraq without making much progress in achieving its goals. Just 18 percent say they’re confident that a stable, democratic form of government can take shape in Iraq over the long term; 37 percent are somewhat confident. Just 13 percent say U.S. efforts to establish security and rebuild Iraq have gone very well since May 1, when combat officially ended; 39 percent say somewhat well.

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Nearly half of respondents, 47 percent, say they are very concerned that the cost of maintaining troops in Iraq will lead to a large budget deficit and seriously hurt the U.S. economy. And 60 percent of those polled say the estimated $1 billion per week that the United States is spending is too much and the country should scale back its efforts. One-third supports the current spending levels for now, but just 15 percent of those polled say they would support maintaining the current spending levels for three years or more.

Against this backdrop, President George W. Bush’s approval ratings continue to decline. His current approval rating of 53 percent is down 18 percent from April. And for the first time since the question was initially asked last fall, more registered voters say they would not like to see him re-elected to another term as president (49 percent) than re-elected. Forty-four percent would favor giving Bush a second term; in April, 52 percent backed Bush for a second term and 38 percent did not.

Despite the costs and the continued attacks against both U.S. and United Nations personnel, most Americans support maintaining current military levels in Iraq—for now anyway. Fifty-six percent approve of keeping large numbers of U.S. military personnel in Iraq for two years or less; 28 percent would support a stay of one to two years, while another 28 percent would support a stay of up to one year. Eighteen percent support keeping large numbers of troops in Iraq for three to five years, three percent for six to 10 years, and 11 percent for more than 10 years (just five percent want to bring troops home now).

Sixty-one percent still believe that the United States was right to take military action against Iraq in March; 33 percent do not. But respondents are split on how effective the U.S. war with Iraq has been in fighting Al Qaeda and terrorism in general. Forty-five percent say the war has reduced the terror network’s power by removing an oil-rich regime that supported terrorism while 38 percent say the war has actually increased Al Qaeda’s power by inspiring a new generation of terrorists to take up arms against the United States and its allies.

The failure to capture Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden, and the slow progress in Iraq have also affected Americans’ views on the Bush administration’s efforts to fight terrorists at home and abroad—but not drastically. A slim majority (54 percent) still approve of the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, though Bush had a 74 percent approval rating in his handling of Iraq in mid-April.

Fifty-seven percent say Bush is doing a better job than Democrats in finding and defeating terrorists abroad, while 21 percent say Democratic party leaders in Congress are dealing better with terrorists. At the beginning of last year, nearly three-quarters of those surveyed thought Bush was doing a better job than the Democrats on fighting terrorism overseas—just 9 percent gave higher marks to Democrats. Fifty-seven percent say Bush is best at handling the fight against terror at home, down from 74 percent in January 2002. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) now think the Democrats do a better job at handling homeland security, versus 11 percent in January 2002.

The biggest shift in opinion, however, comes in Bush’s handling of non-terror issues. A plurality of voters now think the Democratic leaders in Congress have a better approach to dealing with the economy, tax cuts, healthcare, education, social security, the environment and energy policy. In January 2002, more thought Bush had the best approach to handling all the issues above, except the environment.

Forty-five percent of respondents now think the Democratic party leaders are doing a better job of finding ways to stimulate the economy (36 percent say Bush is)—a huge shift from January 2002, when 55 percent thought Bush was better on the economy and just 29 percent thought Congressional Democrats were. Over the past year-and-a-half, Americans have also shifted their views of Bush’s tax cuts—45 percent prefer his cuts to those supported by Democratic leaders now, but that’s down 12 percent from January 2002.

Nearly half of those polled (47 percent) say Democratic leaders have the best approach to health care (31 percent say Bush does), a flip from January 2002, when 45 percent preferred Bush’s approach and 36 percent liked the Democrats’. Bush has lost the most support for his handling of education issues. Just 39 percent prefer his approach now—down 16 percent from January 2002. Forty-three percent say the Democrats are now doing the better job in their approach to education issues.

Similarly, more Americans (45 percent) say Democrats have the better approach to handling Social Security issues. About one-third (32 percent) say Bush has the best approach to Social Security, down 12 points from January 2002. On the environment, 53 percent prefer the Democrats’ approach, while 29 percent support Bush’s handling of environmental issues versus 43 percent and 38 percent respectively in January 2002. Finally, 42 percent of Americans prefer the Democrats’ approach to energy policy, while 33 percent say Bush is doing a better job on the issue (versus 33 percent and 46 percent respectively in January 2002).

Bush has the lead over Democrats in his handling of foreign policy in general, with 48 percent of Americans preferring his approach to foreign-policy issues (37 percent prefer the Democrats’ approach).

The NEWSWEEK poll is conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, which interviewed by telephone 1,011 adults aged 18 and older on Aug. 21 to Aug. 22. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Copyright 2003 Newsweek