March 18, 2003

America’s Image Further Erodes, Europeans Want Weaker Ties

Additional Findings and Analyses

81% in Spain Oppose War

Outside of Great Britain, the prospect of war in Iraq draws substantial ­ in many cases overwhelming ­ opposition. Among other U.S. allies, publics reject participating in a military coalition against Iraq by much wider margins. The Spanish oppose joining an allied military action against Iraq by more than six-to-one (81%-13%). Fewer than a quarter of Italians and Poles (17%, 21%) favor their governments joining the U.S. and other nations in taking military action against Iraq.

In Germany roughly a quarter (27%) favor military action, unchanged since November. In France, where just a third of respondents favored military action against Iraq in November, support for that option has dropped to 20%.

Support for military action was gauged in two ways. In Great Britain, Italy, Spain and Poland ­ the so-called “coalition of the willing” ­ respondents were asked whether they favored or opposed their country joining other allies in taking military action against Iraq. In France, Russia, Germany and Turkey ­ whose governments have ruled out such participation ­ respondents were asked their opinion of “the U.S. and other allies” using force against Iraq.

Turks More Suspicious of U.S. Motives

Nearly nine-in-ten respondents in Russia and Turkey oppose war in Iraq. And since November, Turks have grown more suspicious of U.S. motives for why the United States wants to use force against Iraq. Six-in-ten Turkish respondents now believe that U.S. military action against Iraq is part of a broader U.S. war against unfriendly Muslim nations, an increase from 53% who held that opinion in November. Fewer than a quarter of Turks (22%) accept the administration’s stated rationale for war, that it will lead to greater stability in the Middle East.

A majority of Turks (52%) also believe the nation’s parliament made the right decision a few weeks ago in turning down a U.S. request to use Turkish bases as a staging ground for attacks on Iraq. About four-in-ten (37%) think the parliament made the wrong decision. In November, Turks signaled their strong opposition to the U.S. using Turkey’s bases for the war; just 13% favored that idea, while 83% were opposed. (See “What the World Thinks in 2002,” Dec. 4, 2002).

War Will Bring Long-Term Stability

Despite the broad opposition in Europe to war, there is considerable agreement that disarming Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein from power will ultimately improve the lot of Iraq’s people and lead to more stability in the Middle East. Fully eight-in-ten Americans believe that the people of Iraq will be better off if Saddam is deposed, and there is broad agreement on this point among Western Europeans.

Moreover, solid majorities in the U.S., Great Britain and Germany agree that the Middle East will eventually become more stable if Iraq is disarmed and Saddam Hussein is removed from power. This view is not as prevalent in France, Italy and Poland, although pluralities in each of these countries believe Hussein’s ouster could lead to greater regional stability. Spanish respondents are more divided on this question (38% more stable/29% less stable).

Russians, Turks Much More Pessimistic

In Russia and Turkey, by contrast, there is far less optimism that war in Iraq will improve the lives of people in that country or result in stability in the Middle East. Just one-in-five Russians think Hussein’s ouster and the disarmament of Iraq will improve the lives of people there, while roughly the same number (21%) expect Hussein’s departure to stabilize the Middle East.

Turkish respondents also are much more pessimistic than Americans and other Europeans about the aftermath of war. Majorities of Turks believe the Iraqi people will be worse off (52%) and the Middle East will be less stable (56%), if Iraq is disarmed and Hussein is removed.

U.N. Still Relevant

For the most part, respondents in the U.S. and Europe say that despite the diplomatic impasse over Iraq, the U.N. still plays an important role in dealing with international conflicts. Fully seven-in-ten Germans say the U.N. remains important in spite of the disagreements over Iraq, and smaller majorities in France, Great Britain, the U.S. and Italy agree. Spanish respon
dents are divided; 41% say the U.N. is still relevant and about the same number disagree.

Again, Russians and Turks take a different view. A solid majority of Russians (57%) and nearly half of Turks (47%) think that the U.N. has lost luster because of Iraq crisis. Fewer than three-in-ten in both of those countries believe the U.N. still plays an important role in addressing global conflicts.

U.S. Policy’s Negative Impact

With the exception of the British, most respondents report that American foreign policy is having a negative effect on their country. This sentiment is strongest in Turkey, where roughly two-thirds (68%) feel this way. Opinion is also predominantly negative in France (63%), Germany (59%), and Russia (58%), though attitudes have moderated slightly in France and Germany over the past two months. And pluralities in Spain and Poland (49%, 41% respectively) say U.S. policies are having a negative impact.

The British are divided about the impact of American foreign policy (39% see it as negative, 38% positive). This reflects a positive shift since January when only 30% of Britons thought U.S. policy was having a good impact, according to a survey by Gallup International.

Bush, Not America, Blamed

The publics of Western Europe are more apt to blame President Bush for the negative impact of U.S. policy than to blame America in general. Among those saying U.S. foreign policy is having a bad effect on their country, about three-quarters of the French (76%) and two-thirds of Germans (68%) blame the president. Relatively small minorities in both countries (15% in France and 30% in Germany) blame America in general.

Just over half of the British (56%), Italians (52%) and Spanish (53%) also place responsibility solely on Bush. But outside of Western Europe, people are more inclined to blame the negative impact of U.S. policies more generally on America. Almost half of Russians and Turks (48%), and four-in-ten Poles think America itself is to blame for the damage U.S. foreign policy causes in their country.

U.S. Views on Iraq Polarizing

In the United States, support for military action in Iraq dropped over the past two months, from 68% in January to 59% in the days leading up to the president’s March 17 speech on Iraq (March 13-16). Opposition to military action rose five points over the same period (from 25% in January to 30% today).

American views on how to deal with Iraq have crystallized as the prospects for war have increased. While the percent opposing military action in Iraq inched upwards, support for unilateral action also increased. In the latest survey, nearly four-in-ten Americans (38%) favored military action in Iraq even without allied support. That was unchanged from last month, but significantly higher than in January and throughout 2002.

Just 16% of Americans said they support military action only if allies agree to participate. More than twice as many (37%) expressed contingent support for military action two months ago.

The hardening of opinion on Iraq also is reflected in the increasingly partisan cast to perceptions of the war and the president’s leadership. Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike have moved away from contingent support for military action (only with allies), but in opposite directions. With war approaching, fully 44% of Democrats said they oppose military action in Iraq, up from 30% two months ago, as fewer believe that military action with allied support is a viable option. Both Republicans and independents moved in the opposite direction. In both groups, a greater number favored U.S. military action even without the support of allies, while the percent opposing war did not change.

U.S. Public Split Over Bush’s Message

Prior to Bush’s Monday night speech on Iraq, about half of Americans (49%) felt the president had explained the stakes clearly, while 47% said he had not. These evaluations were somewhat worse than a month ago. At that time, shortly after the president’s State of the Union address and Secretary of State Powell’s address to the U.N. Security Council, just four-in-ten said the president had not explained the reasons for war clearly enough.

As with overall views on military action, evaluations of the president’s leadership on this issue have become increasingly partisan. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Democrats said the president has failed to explain his reasons clearly, up from 58% in February. Three-quarters of Republicans believed he has made the case completely. Like Democrats, most independents (54%) expressed reservations about the president’s ability to explain the issues clearly, up from just 42% a month ago.

International Support Insufficient

Most Americans (56%) wanted the U.S. to convince more of its allies to go along before using military force, and an equal number (54%) said the U.S. should first get a United Nations resolution to use force before taking military action against Iraq. Just over a third said they believe that sufficient international support already existed (37%) and that another U.N. resolution was not necessary (35%). [Note: U.S. polling completed March 16, 2003, before the U.S. announced it would not seek another U.N. resolution on Iraq.]

As was the case in February, a U.N. resolution was not seen as a necessity in the view of most Americans. If the U.S. and most of its allies were to back the use of force against Iraq, but the U.N. resolution were to be vetoed by one or two countries who oppose it, just 24% said the administration should abide by such a veto. Roughly the same proportion (25%), representing about half of those who favored seeking a new resolution, said the U.S. should go ahead with military action if most allies are on board and the U.S. thinks it is the right thing to do.

While Americans expressed a need for more international support for military action in Iraq, there was little evidence that the public viewed continued inspections as a viable option. Most remained skeptical about even the possibility that weapons inspections would lead to effective disarmament in Iraq. Six-in-ten thought the inspections have already shown that Iraq cannot be peacefully disarmed. Just half as many (28%) said it was too early to tell whether Iraq will cooperate.

Cite this publication: “America’s Image Further Erodes, Europeans Want Weaker Ties.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (March 18, 2003) http://www.people-press.org/2003/03/18/americas-image-further-erodes-europeans-want-weaker-ties/, accessed on July 22, 2014.