January 22, 2004

Iraq Support Stable, Bush Not Seen as Unilateralist

41% Worry U.S. Will Leave Iraq Too Soon

Summary of Findings

Public support for the U.S. military operation in Iraq has remained strong since the capture of Saddam Hussein, despite the continuing American casualties there. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) feel the war was the right decision, which represents little change from December, shortly after Hussein’s capture (67%). That event also boosted the public’s sense of progress in Iraq; even so, fewer than a quarter (22%) say things there are going very well there.

The latest Pew Research Center national survey, conducted Jan. 6-11, shows that, on balance, the public believes that the Bush administration pays the right amount of attention to the concerns of U.S. allies and is not overly aggressive in pushing American interests abroad. A 46% plurality of Americans thinks the administration gives appropriate attention to concerns of U.S. allies, compared with 30% who say he gives too little attention to those concerns.

However, Democrats have become more critical of how Bush deals with the allies. Compared with early September 2001 (Survey was conducted Aug. 21-Sept. 5, 2001, before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.), more Democrats think the administration pays too little attention allied interests (44% now vs. 28% then). By contrast, increasing numbers of independents and Republicans believe the administration gives an appropriate level of attention to allied concerns.

In a survey conducted last year by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, lopsided majorities in 16 of 20 populations surveyed said the U.S. does not take their country’s interests into account in carrying out its foreign policy. This perception was widespread even in friendly nations like Canada (70%). But Americans have consistently rejected that idea; 73% of U.S. respondents in the survey taken last May saw the United States taking the concerns of other nations into account in conducting its foreign policy.

The latest Pew poll also finds the public believing that Bush strikes the right balance in advocating America’s overseas interests. Nearly half of Americans (47%) say Bush pushes U.S. interests “about right,” while 26% think he is too aggressive in pursuing those interests and 22% say he is not aggressive enough. Bush’s image is quite different from former President Clinton’s in this regard. In June 1995, 42% of the public felt Clinton did not press hard enough for American interests while 39% said he had advocated those interests appropriately.

The partisan gap over the war in Iraq, which briefly narrowed following Hussein’s capture, has again widened. Only about four-in-ten Democrats (42%) feel the war was the right decision, down from 56% in December. By comparison, independents have become somewhat more supportive of the war ­ 66% now, 60% then ­ while Republicans overwhelmingly believe the war was the right decision.

Americans are feeling more positive about the situation in Iraq than they were in the fall. While fewer than a quarter (22%) say the U.S. military effort there is going very well, another 51% believe things are going fairly well. Both ratings are up significantly since October, and the percentage of the public expressing a negative view of progress in Iraq has fallen from 36% to 24% in that period. Currently, four-in-ten Democrats rate progress in Iraq negatively, compared with just one-in-ten Republicans.

Nearly half of Americans (48%) say their greater concern in Iraq is that the United States will wait too long to withdraw its forces from the country. But a sizable minority (41%) are more concerned that the U.S. will put out too quickly, before a stable democracy is established. Democrats by more than two-to-one (62%-30%) say the bigger concern is the U.S. will stay too long in Iraq; Republicans by a smaller margin (53%-34%) voice the opposite concern.