January 30, 2003

Public Struggles with Possible War in Iraq

Polls Surprisingly Consistent

Public opinion polls have presented a consistent picture of the public’s attitudes toward using force in Iraq since the debate over military action intensified last summer. On the bottom line question of whether to use military force in Iraq, polls have continued to show majorities in favor of military action, with qualifications. But the size of the majority varies with the specific wording of the question.

The standard question used by many public opinion organizations, including the Pew Research Center, asks whether the respondent favors or opposes taking military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power. These questions yield higher measures of support than the standard question asked by Gallup/CNN/USA Today, which asks about invading Iraq with ground troops.

Beyond the general question of support or opposition for the idea of war, the level of public support depends upon several important contingencies: whether or not U.S. allies and the United Nations go along with the effort; the level of potential casualties; and the nature of the evidence discovered by the U.N. weapons inspectors. Only a minority of Americans are unaffected by these considerations. From a quarter to a third of the public supports using force without qualifications; fewer than one-in-five Americans oppose military action in all cases.

Here are recent polls on the general question of using force in Iraq:

Organization Dates N Question Favor/Yes Oppose/No DK
Pew Research Center 1/8-12/03 611 Would you favor or oppose taking military action in Iraq to end Saddam Hussein’s rule? 68 25 7
Fox News/ Opinion Dynamics 1/14-15/03 900 RV Do you support or oppose U.S. military action to disarm Iraq and remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein? 67 25 8
CBS/NYT 1/19-22/03 997 Do you approve or disapprove of the United States taking military action against Iraq to try to remove Saddam Hussein from power? 64 30 6
Newsweek 1/23-24/03 1001 In the fight against terrorism, the Bush Administration has talked about using military force against Saddam Hussein and his military in Iraq. Would you support using military force against Iraq, or not? 60 35 5
Time/CNN 1/15-16/03 1010 Do you think the U.S. should or should not use military action involving ground troops to attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq? 60 33 7
ABC/Washington Post 1/16-20/03 1133 Would you favor or oppose having U.S. forces take military action against Iraq to force Saddam Hussein from power? 57 41 3
NBC News/Wall Street Journal 1/19-21/03 1025 Do you think that the United States should or should not take military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq? 56 36 8
Gallup/CNN/ USA Today 1/23-25/03 1000 Would you favor or oppose invading Iraq with U.S. ground troops in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power? 52 43 5

Support for military action declines sharply when the prospect of casualties is raised:

Organization Dates N Question Favor/Yes Oppose/No DK
ABC/Washington Post 12/12-15/02 1209 Would you favor or oppose having U.S. forces take military action against Iraq to force Saddam Hussein from power? 62 35 3
A U.S. invasion of Iraq with ground troops, even if it means a significant number of U.S. military casualties? 30 63 6
CBS/NYT 11/20-24/02 996 Do you approve or disapprove of the United States taking military action against Iraq to try to remove Saddam Hussein from power? 70 23 7
Suppose U.S. military action in Iraq would result in substantial U.S. military casualties, then would you favor or oppose the United States taking military action against Iraq? 51 40 9
LA Times 12/12-15/02 1305 Suppose President George W. Bush decides to order U.S. troops into a ground attack against Iraqi forces. Would you support or oppose that decision? 58 35 7
Support sending troops to Iraq even if casualties? 42 51 7
Pew Research Center 1/8-12/03 611 Would you favor or oppose taking military action in Iraq to end Saddam Hussein’s rule? 68 25 7
607 Would you favor or oppose taking military action in Iraq to end Saddam Hussein’s rule, even if it meant that U.S. forces might suffer thousands of casualties? 43 48 9

Support for military action also falls when the prospect of the U.S. fighting alone or with few allies is mentioned:

Organization Dates N Question Favor/Yes Oppose/No DK
Newsweek 1/23-24/03 1001 Please tell me if you would support or oppose U.S. military action against Iraq in each of the following circumstances. The United States acted alone in attacking Iraq, without the support of the United Nations. 31 65 4
Gallup/CNN/ USA Today 1/23-25/03 1000 Which comes closer to your view – the United States should invade Iraq when the Bush administration decides that it is time to do so, (or) the United States should not invade Iraq unless European allies like France and Germany have given their support? 39 57 4
ABC/Washington Post 12/12-15/02 1209 Would you favor or oppose having U.S. forces take military action against Iraq to force Saddam Hussein from power? (62 favor, 35 oppose, 3 DK) IF FAVOR: Having U.S. forces take military action against Iraq, even if U.S. allies oppose such action? 42 52 6
Pew Research Center 1/8-12/03 611 Should we attack Iraq only if our major allies agree to join us, or attack Iraq even if allies do not want to join us? (without allies)
26
62 12

The public is reluctant to commit to war unless U.N. weapons inspections uncover evidence that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction:

Take action against Iraq
Organization Dates N Question Yes No Other
Pew Research Center 1/8-9/03 607 Weapons inspectors are currently working in Iraq. If the inspectors find that Iraq is hiding nuclear, biological or chemical weapons would this be a reason to take military action against Iraq, or not? 76 17 7
Newsweek 1/23-24/03 1001 What if U.N. weapons inspectors do NOT find evidence that Iraq has chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, but the Bush Administration says its intelligence reports indicate that Iraq DOES have such weapons. Would you support or oppose U.S. military action in this circumstance? 52 41 7
CBS/NYT 1/19-22/03 513 On January 27, the United Nations weapons inspectors will report on whether or not they have found any evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. If Iraq cannot prove that it has shut down its weapons program by then, do you think the United States should decide to start military actions against Iraq, or should the United States wait longer to give Iraq more time to comply? 6
Pew Research Center 1/8,10 -12/03 631 Weapons inspectors are currently working in Iraq. If the inspectors do not find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but they find that Iraq has the ability to make these weapons would this be a reason to take military action against Iraq, or not? 46 47 7
NBC News/Wall Street Journal 1/19-21/03 1025 U.N. weapons inspectors have said that they need more time to conduct additional inspections to determine whether Iraq has disarmed itself of weapons of mass destruction. Do you think that the United States should make plans to take military action against Iraq immediately after the January 27th deadline, when the inspectors will present their initial findings from weapons inspections in Iraq, or should the inspectors be given more time? 32 61 7
Pew Research Center 1/8,10 -12/03 631 Weapons inspectors are currently working in Iraq. If the inspectors do not find a weapons program, but the Iraqi government can’t prove they do not have such a program would this be a reason to take military action against Iraq, or not? 29 63 8
ABC/ Washington Post 1/16-20/03 1133 Imagine the U.N. inspectors cannot find hard evidence that Iraq has chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. In that case, do you think the United States should or should not have to present its own evidence that Iraq has these weapons, before the U.S. attacks Iraq? Should Not (i.e., attack anyway)
27
Should (i.e., don’t attack)
71
No opinion
2
CBS/NYT 1/19-22/03 484 On January 27, the United Nations weapons inspectors will report on whether or not they have found any evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. If the United Nations inspectors have not found any weapons of mass destruction by that date, do you think the United States should decide to start military actions against Iraq, or should the United States wait longer to give the weapons inspectors more time to look? 17 77 6

The level of consistent support for war, no matter what the circumstances, ranges from a quarter to a third of the public.

Organization Dates N Question Favor/Yes Oppose/No DK
Newsweek 1/23-24/03 1001 Please tell me if you would support or oppose U.S. military action against Iraq in each of the following circumstances. The United States acted alone in attacking Iraq, without the support of the United Nations. 31 65 4
Gallup/CNN/ USA Today 1/23-25/03 1000 Favor invading Iraq with U.S. ground troops and opinion will not change no matter what the outcome of U.N. inspections 31
Pew Research Center 1/9-12/03 587 Weapons inspectors are currently working in Iraq. If the inspectors do not find a weapons program, but they can give no assurance that Iraq is not hiding one would this be a reason to take military action against Iraq, or not? 28 62 10
Pew Research Center 1/8-12/03 611 Should we attack Iraq only if our major allies agree to join us, or attack Iraq even if allies do not want to join us? (without allies)
26
62 12

Consistent opposition to war, no matter what the circumstances, ranges from 14-17%.

Organization Dates N Question Favor/Yes Oppose/No DK
Pew Research Center 1/8-9/03 607 Weapons inspectors are currently working in Iraq. If the inspectors find that Iraq is hiding nuclear, biological or chemical weapons would this be a reason to take military action against Iraq, or not? 76 17 7
Newsweek 1/23-24/03 1001 Please tell me if you would support or oppose U.S. military action against Iraq in each of the following circumstances. The United States joined together with its major allies to attack Iraq, with the full support of the United Nations Security Council. 81 15 4
Gallup/CNN/ USA Today 1/23-25/03 1000 Oppose invading Iraq with U.S. ground troops and opinion will not change no matter what the outcome of U.N. inspections14