April 2, 2003

Polls in Close Agreement on Public Views of War

Public attitudes toward the war in Iraq have been remarkably consistent through the first two weeks of the conflict. There is broad support for the war, and Americans are upbeat – though not overwhelmingly so – about progress to date. Most expect it will take months, not weeks, to defeat the Iraqi military. What is striking is the similarity of the results, regardless of question wording.

Nearly all major national survey organizations have shown support for military action in the 70% range. Only the Newsweek poll, conducted March 27-28, found a lower level of support (63%). But that is largely because the Newsweek question focused on the timing of the war, and asked respondents whether the U.S. should have “waited longer to try to achieve its goals in Iraq diplomatically.” Significantly, the two surveys that explicitly mentioned removing Saddam Hussein from power as a goal of military action found higher levels of support than did other polls (CBS News/New York Times, Fox News/Opinion Dynamics).

Perceptions of how well the war is going also are consistent across polling organizations. Those surveys that have tracked attitudes on a daily basis have found a decline in highly favorable assessments of the war’s progress. The decline is sharpest in the Pew Research Center survey, which was the only one to measure perceptions of progress shortly after the war began (March 20-22).

Most Americans expect the war to last several months. National surveys gave respondents a range of possible durations – from days to a year or longer – and got similar results. Majorities in four separate polls said the war would last several months.

There is widespread concern over U.S. casualties. In the March 27 survey by ABC News/Washington Post, more than eight-in-ten (82%) expect a “significant” number of military casualties – up from just 37% a week earlier. Given a range of possible estimates, a 52% majority in the Gallup/CNN/USA Today survey said they expected several hundred casualties but fewer than 1,000.

The public has not been surprised by the fierce fight mounted by Iraqi forces. Most people say the resistance has been about what they expected. But 55% in the Time/CNN poll felt the government was too optimistic in its public statements about the war and the same number in the CBS News/New York Times survey felt the government “underestimated” the Iraqi army.

What follows is a compendium of recent national surveys on the war: