PRINCETON, NJ -- The latest USA Today/Gallup poll finds that a majority of Americans continue to express opposition to the war in Iraq, attitudes that are unchanged in the last two months. According to the Jan. 30-Feb. 2 poll, 57% of Americans say it was a mistake for the United States to send troops to Iraq, while 41% say it was not a mistake. Those numbers are identical to what Gallup measured in late November/early December.
This broad measure of the correctness of the U.S. decision to go to war in Iraq has not changed much, even with more positive assessments of U.S. progress in Iraq in the last three months.
About a year ago, shortly after the U.S. troop surge was announced, a Feb. 9-11 USA Today/Gallup poll showed that 56% of Americans thought the United States had made a mistake -- nearly identical to the current figure. There has been minor variation on this measure since that time, but in general, a majority of the U.S. public has expressed opposition to the war in all but a few Gallup Polls conducted since August 2005.
It has been well-established that opinions about the war are strongly related to party affiliation and ideological orientation. But ideology and party interact, such that support increases as one moves from the left to the right of the ideological spectrum. Liberal Democrats are almost universally opposed to the war, while the vast majority of conservative Republicans support it.
Even though war support is strongly related to one's party affiliation, there is still enough variation within each party to assess how views of the war are related to candidate preference in the 2008 presidential primaries. The poll was conducted before the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday primaries, so the following analysis is based on "pre-Super Tuesday" attitudes, which could change if candidate support patterns shift in the coming days.
As of last weekend, Democrats who opposed the war were about equally likely to support Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as the party's 2008 presidential nominee. This is in spite of the fact that Obama has continually stressed that Clinton voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq while he publicly opposed the war from the beginning. Democrats who support the war showed greater support for Clinton.
John McCain was the leading candidate among both Republican war supporters and opponents, in part because he had a sizable overall lead of nearly 20 points in the most recent poll. McCain is perhaps the staunchest supporter of the war in Congress, but his support was as high (or higher) among Republican war opponents as it was among war supporters in that poll. The only Republican presidential candidate who opposes the war -- Ron Paul -- had much greater support among war opponents (12%) than among war supporters (2%). Notably, 88% of Republican war supporters favored one of the three leading (all pro-war) GOP candidates, but only 70% of Republican war opponents did.
Americans' opinions about U.S. involvement in Iraq are well-formed at this point, and even the more positive news out of Iraq in recent months has done nothing to lessen public opposition to the war. Attitudes about the war are strongly related to one's political point of view, ranging from 91% opposition among liberal Democrats to 80% support among conservative Republicans. Thus, while the war will be a major issue during the fall presidential campaign, its impact is less clear, since war supporters (largely Republicans) will most likely support the GOP candidate and war opponents (largely Democrats) will probably back the Democrat.
These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 2,020 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 30-Feb. 2, 2008. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±2 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.