August 2, 2007

A Summer of Discontent with Washington

Section 3: The War in Iraq

Opinions about the War

Most aspects of public opinion about the war have shown little change in recent months. Majorities of the public (53%) say the U.S. made the wrong decision in using military force in Iraq, believe that the war is not going well (59%), and favor bringing the troops home as soon as possible (54%). None of these indicators are significantly different now than in the beginning of the year and all show large partisan gaps, as they have since the conflict began four years ago.

Although there was a slight increase in support for sending more troops just after President Bush announced his plans for a troop surge in January, the number favoring adding military forces has now returned roughly to the level seen at the end of 2006. Currently, 16% favor sending more troops, down 9 percentage points from a survey conducted in mid-January. The proportion that favors immediate withdrawal from Iraq also has increased from 16% to 21% since the beginning of the year.

The public remains divided whether the war in Iraq has helped the war on terrorism (40%) or hurt it (45%). But for more than a year, the narrow division of opinion on this question has tilted negative. The last time a plurality said the Iraq war was helping the war on terrorism was in June of 2006 (44% helped, 40% hurt).

One indicator of public sentiment that has shown steady erosion is optimism about the likelihood that the U.S. will achieve its goal in Iraq. In the current survey just 43% say the U.S. will definitely or probably succeed, down from 57% in September.

Democrats and Republicans do agree on one thing about the situation in Iraq: the Iraqi government is not doing a good job running the country. Just 8% of the public rate the Iraqi government’s performance as excellent or good, while 44% say it has been “only fair” and 40% say the Iraqi leaders are doing a poor job. More Democrats (46%) than Republicans (31%) give the Iraqi government a poor rating. But that does not mean that Republicans view the government favorably; just 12% of Republicans give the Iraqi government excellent or good marks, compared with 5% of Democrats.

In addition to increasing doubts about the Iraqi government, longstanding doubts about the Iraqi people also have grown. For the first time since the war began, a majority of Americans (54%) currently believes that most Iraqis oppose the U.S. policies in their country. At the same time, 30% of the public think the Iraqi public currently supports the U.S., a new low.

Despite majority support for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, most Americans say that a withdrawal will increase the chances of civil war in Iraq and the possibility that al Qaeda will establish terrorist bases there. Overall, 58% believe the chances of full-scale civil war will grow if the U.S. withdraws over the coming year while 6% say a withdrawal would reduce the chances of civil war and 20% say it would have no effect. Similarly, 55% say the chances of al Qaeda establishing terrorist bases would increase if the U.S. withdraws, 6% say the chances would decrease and 24% say a withdrawal would have no effect.

Even among those who favor a withdrawal, a plurality foresees an increase in the chances of civil war if the U.S. pulls out over the next year. But among those who oppose withdrawal, overwhelming majorities believe that both civil war and terrorist bases would follow.

Information about the War

Compared with four months ago, Americans today express somewhat more confidence in the accuracy of information about the war provided by the U.S. military. Today, slightly more than half (52%) expresses at least a fair amount of confidence in facts and information provided by the military, up from 46% in April. At the same time, 44% say they have “not too much” or “no confidence at all” in military-supplied data. Republicans express far greater confidence in the military as a source of information than do Democrats (75% vs. 36%). In contrast, nearly nine-in-10 Americans (85%) expressed confidence in facts provided by the armed forces when the conflict with Iraq began in 2003.