Time to Change Course in Iraq?

Findings and trends from the latest polling data

| Fri Sep. 23, 2005 12:00 AM PDT
Article created by The Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress.

For understandable reasons, survey results on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath have received the most attention in the recent wave of public poll releases. But it is striking what these polls also tell us about the public’s views on Iraq. To put it in a nutshell, the public is running out of patience with the Iraq conflict and is now actively looking for a way to end U.S. involvement in that conflict.

Consider these results from several recent polls.

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In the latest Pew Research Center poll, sentiment that the United States should set a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq has spiked upwards, from a closely divided 49 percent to 45 percent split in July to a 57 percent to 37 percent pro-timetable result today. And 39 percent—the highest ever—think that Iraq will turn out to be “another Vietnam.”

While the public may increasingly know what it wants vis a vis Iraq, they do not believe they are getting it from their nation’s leaders. By 63 percent to 30 percent, they say that Bush does not have a “clear plan for bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion.” But they have no more confidence in the Democratic leaders in Congress: by 71 percent to 18 percent, they say the Democrats don’t have a “clear alternative for how to deal with the situation in Iraq.”

In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, just 37 percent approve of the job Bush is doing on Iraq, compared to 58 percent who disapprove. Even more impressive, the number approving of Bush’s handling on the war of terrorism is now down to 43 percent, with 51 percent disapproving—the worst result I think I’ve ever seen for a Bush approval rating in this area.

In this poll, only 37 percent are willing to say that “removing Saddam Hussein from power was . . . worth the number of U.S. military casualties and the financial cost of the war,” compared to 51 percent who say that removing Hussein wasn’t worth these costs—easily the most negative result yet on this question. And, by a solid 55 percent to 36 percent margin, the public endorses reducing troop levels in Iraq “since elections have been held,” rather than maintaining troop levels in Iraq “to help secure peace and stability.”

In the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, 36 percent approve of Bush’s handling of Iraq and 59 percent disapprove. And 75 percent believe he lacks a clear plan for “getting American troops out of Iraq.”

In addition, by 50 percent to 44 percent, the public now believes that the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, rather than that the United States did the right thing by taking military action. And, by a commanding 59 percent to 36 percent margin, they say that the United States should either decrease (27 percent) or remove all (32 percent) U.S. troops, rather than maintain U.S. troop levels (26 percent) or increase them (10 percent).

The poll also has a very interesting result that shows how much things have changed since February of this year. At that time, by 55 percent to 40 percent, people said that the U.S. troops should stay in Iraq “as long as it takes” to make sure Iraq is stable, rather than remove U.S. troops as soon as possible, even if Iraq wasn’t stabilized. Today, that sentiment has reversed. By 52 percent to 42 percent, the public wants to remove U.S. troops as soon as possible, rather than keep them there until Iraq stabilizes.

Two other results indicate just how jaundiced the public view of Iraq is becoming. By 49 percent to 43 percent, they say that they are “not proud” of what the United States is doing in Iraq. And a mere 30 percent are now willing to say that the Iraq war has made the U.S. more safe from terrorism.

Finally, the latest Gallup poll, which was conducted somewhat later (September 16–18) than the other polls cited above, has Bush’s approval rating on Iraq at a stunningly low 32 percent, with 67 percent disapproval. Moreover, 59 percent now say that the United States “made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq”—by far, the highest number so far—compared to just 39 percent who say that we didn’t. And 63 percent now declare themselves in favor withdrawing some or all troops from Iraq, rather than keeping or increasing the current level (34 percent).

It’s getting increasingly obvious what the public wants—that “clear plan” for Iraq they haven’t as yet seen from their political leaders. Now might be a good time for those leaders to reconsider their reticence and supply it.

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