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Americans Back Bin Laden Mission; Credit Military, CIA Most

Americans Back Bin Laden Mission; Credit Military, CIA Most

PRINCETON, NJ -- More than 9 in 10 Americans approve of the U.S. military action that killed Osama bin Laden on Sunday, and 79% say his killing is "extremely" or "very important" to the U.S.

May 2011: Do you approve or disapprove of the U.S. military action that killed Osama bin Laden?

May 2011: How important do you think it is to the U.S. that Osama bin Laden was killed?

These results are from a one-night USA Today/Gallup poll conducted with 645 Americans Monday, May 2, after a day in which details of the bin Laden mission dominated news coverage.

Ninety-three percent of Americans say they approve of the action that killed bin Laden. This is similar to the 90% of Americans who in an Oct. 7, 2001, poll approved of the U.S. taking military action against Afghanistan. These approval levels are higher than the immediate reaction to the launching of either the first Persian Gulf War in 1991 or the Iraq war in 2003, for which approval was in the mid- to high 70% range.

Overwhelming majorities of all subgroups of the American population approve of Sunday's action, including 97% of Republicans and 95% of Democrats. Independents are slightly less likely to approve, at 89%, with 8% disapproving.

Military Gets the Most Credit

When Americans are asked how much credit they would give to Barack Obama, George W. Bush, the CIA, and the U.S. military for finding and killing bin Laden, the U.S. military and the CIA emerge as the big winners in the public's eyes. Nearly 9 of 10 (89%) say the military deserves "a great deal of credit," while 62% say the same about the CIA.

Americans are more reserved in giving credit to President Obama. Thirty-five percent say he deserves a great deal of credit and another 36% say he deserves "a moderate amount" of credit. More than a quarter say he does not deserve much or any credit at all.

May 2011: Credit for Finding and Killing bin Laden

Some observers have argued that the Bush administration laid the groundwork for Sunday's actions and that as a result, former President Bush deserves a share of the credit. Slightly more than half of Americans agree, saying Bush deserves a great deal or a moderate amount of credit, considerably less than that given to Obama. Almost half of Americans say Bush deserves little credit or none at all.

Several Republican leaders publicly praised President Obama Monday for his actions leading up to the death of bin Laden, including Bush, former Vice President Cheney, and Speaker of the House John Boehner. At the rank-and-file level across the country, however, Republicans are more sparing in the amount of credit they are willing to give Obama. Ninety percent of Democrats, compared with 73% of independents and 48% of Republicans, give Obama a great deal or moderate amount of credit for Sunday's actions. On the other hand, 71% of Republicans give Bush a great deal or moderate amount of credit, in contrast to 48% of independents and 40% of Democrats.

One in Three Would Have Preferred to See bin Laden Captured Alive

While 60% say killing bin Laden was the preferred strategy, 33% say it would have been better if bin Laden had been captured alive.

May 2011: Better for the U.S. to Have Captured or Killed Osama bin Laden?

Still, 84% of those who say it would have been better to capture bin Laden alive still say they approve of the military action overall. This suggests that the preference for his capture is not held so strongly that it dampens support for the mission as executed.

Demographically, the major distinction in these preferences for how bin Laden should have been handled is within age groups, with 50% of 18- to 34-year-olds in the survey saying they would have preferred to see bin Laden captured alive, compared with 27% of those aged 35 to 54 and 26% of those 55 and older. Republicans (22%) are less likely than either independents (38%) or Democrats (36%) to express a preference that bin Laden be captured rather than killed.


The U.S. military actions that resulted in the killing of terrorist leader bin Laden on Sunday are one of those rare events that prompt nearly unanimous support from the American public, regardless of political orientation or demographic characteristics. Even most of those who say they would have preferred that bin Laden be captured rather than killed still say overall that they approve of the result.

Sunday's events will no doubt add additional luster to the already very positive image of the U.S. military. Americans overwhelmingly give a great deal of credit to the U.S. military for the mission, more so than for the CIA and substantially more than the credit given to either President Obama or former President Bush.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 2, 2011, with a random sample of 645 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones. The sample includes a minimum quota of 240 cell phone respondents and 360 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phones numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents were chosen within each household on the basis of the youngest male or oldest female at home.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

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.

Polls conducted entirely in one day, such as this one, are subject to additional error or bias not found in polls conducted over several days.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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