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Public Attitudes About Iraq Heading Into Midterm Elections

Public Attitudes About Iraq Heading Into Midterm Elections

by Joseph Carroll


PRINCETON, NJ -- A recent USA Today/Gallup poll finds that a majority of Americans say it was a mistake to send troops to Iraq. This sentiment is on par with attitudes about the war measured by Gallup throughout most of the year, although slightly more negative than Gallup measured in September. The current situation in Iraq continues to be one of the three issues Americans say they are most likely to take into account when voting in the November congressional elections, along with government corruption and terrorism. Americans are increasingly likely to say that the Democrats rather than the Republicans can better handle the situation in Iraq.

Public Support for the War in Iraq

The Oct. 6-8 poll finds that 56% of Americans say it was a mistake to send troops to Iraq, while 40% say it was not. These results are generally in line with what Gallup has found throughout much of the year, although more negative than Gallup measured in mid-September, when Americans were more evenly divided in their views of the war.

From a long-term perspective, Americans have grown more and more negative about the war in Iraq each year since it began. In 2003, an average of only 32% of Americans said it was a mistake to send troops to Iraq. This average jumped to 46% in 2004, to 51% in 2005, and to 54% so far this year. The high point on this measure came in September 2005, when 59% said sending troops to Iraq was a mistake.

The current poll finds that 22% of Republicans say it was a mistake to send troops to Iraq, while 60% of independents and 79% of Democrats share that point of view. There has been modest fluctuation on this mistake measure among these three partisan groups throughout the year, but the basic pattern remains the same -- Democrats and independents are much more negative than Republicans about the war in Iraq.

Iraq and the Midterm Elections

The poll asked Americans to assess the importance of eight issues in their vote for Congress this year. Three issues score at the top of the list, with 48% of Americans saying each issue is "extremely important" to their vote -- corruption in government, the situation in Iraq, and terrorism.

Importance of Issues to Midterm Election Vote
Oct. 6-8, 2006


Very important



Corruption in government



The situation in Iraq









The economy



Moral standards in the country



Gas prices






Over the course of the year, the war in Iraq has ranked as the most salient issue, with terrorism ranking closely behind. The corruption issue has gained prominence during this time. (The war in Iraq continues to be the dominant issue in responses to two other Gallup questions that ask Americans, in their own words, to identify "the most important problem facing the country" and to name "the top priority for the president and Congress to deal with.")

The recent poll asked Americans whether the Republicans or Democrats would better handle the situation in Iraq, with Americans saying the Democrats by a 52% to 35% margin. Americans have held the view that Democrats would do the better job on Iraq since last October, but in each poll during this period of time, Americans have grown increasingly likely to say that the Democrats would do a better job than Republicans. Around the start of the Iraq war in 2003, the public gave Republicans a clear advantage on this issue.

Republicans and Democrats differ in their views of the importance of the situation in Iraq and the party better able to handle the problems in that country.

While the vast majority of respondents in each party group say the situation in Iraq is important to their vote, Democrats are much more likely than Republicans or independents to say it is extremely important. Fifty-five percent of Democrats say Iraq is extremely important to their vote, compared with 44% of Republicans and 43% of independents.

The vast majority of both Republicans and Democrats say their own party would better handle the war in Iraq. However, Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to say the opposing party would do the better job, with 14% of Republicans saying Democrats would do the better job and 7% of Democrats saying Republicans would do better. Independents are more likely to pick the Democrats instead of the Republicans, by a 50% to 28% margin.

Survey Methods

The latest results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,007 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 6-8, 2006. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. 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.

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