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Majority of Americans Back Reno's Retrieval of Elian Gonzalez

Majority of Americans Back Reno's Retrieval of Elian Gonzalez


PRINCETON, NJ -- A new CNN/Gallup Poll survey, conducted Saturday afternoon, finds Americans in general agreement with the Justice Department action taken early Saturday morning, in which armed federal agents stormed the Gonzalez family home in Miami and took Elian Gonzalez away to be reunited with his father. Over half of Americans, 57%, told Gallup they approve of the federal action while just 37% disapprove. A 54% majority also agree with Attorney General Janet Reno that the government had done all it could until now to settle the matter without the use of force. Only 38% disagree.

These findings are consistent with previous Gallup polls that have shown roughly six in ten Americans believing the six-year-old Cuban castaway should live with his father in Cuba, rather than remain with relatives in Miami. The current survey finds no change in this basic outlook, with 59% saying it is in the boy's best interests to return to Cuba, and only 27% saying he should stay in the U.S.

Interestingly, men and women differ in their outlook toward Saturday's raid, with men supporting it by more than a two-to-one margin, 66% to 31%, and women closely divided, with just 48% approving and 43% disapproving.

Mixed Reaction to Use of Force in Retrieving Elian
The poll did find some public concern about the government's use of force in carrying out Saturday's action, but revealed that -- despite the dramatic photos showing Elian being taken at gunpoint by federal agents -- those who were exposed to news coverage of the removal scene in Miami are no more likely than are those not exposed to the coverage to feel the amount of force used there was excessive. Overall, four in ten Americans (40%) believe the government used too much force in removing Elian, while 36% say it used the right amount. At the time of the poll, 42% of Americans said they had seen photos or news footage of Elian being physically removed from the Miami home. But, like the public at large, this group is closely split in its attitudes about the use of force: 50% say too much was used, while 46% say it was the right amount.

The more powerful image appears to be the photos showing Elian reunited with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, outside Washington, D.C. As of Saturday afternoon, 18% of Americans indicated they had seen news coverage of the boy being reunited with his father. This group appears to be slightly more inclined to believe Elian should be returned to Cuba to live with his father (69% feel this way), compared to those not exposed to this news coverage (56%).

A Political Briar Patch
The poll suggests there are no real winners amongst the various players active in the Elian Gonzalez saga. Despite majority approval of the federal retrieval of Elian on Saturday, only 45% of Americans approve of the way Attorney General Janet Reno has handled the situation since it began last November, while 46% disapprove.

Ratings for the other major players involved go down from there. Just 42% say they approve of President Clinton's handling of the situation and fewer than one-third approve of the actions of the Gonzalez relatives in Miami (31%) or the news media (30%). Al Gore gets the lowest approval rating of all, with just 23% approving and 42% disapproving of his handling of the matter. However, in his case, a large number of Americans, 35%, say they have no opinion about his role, suggesting some may not be familiar with his stand in favor of having a full custody hearing for Elian.

What Next?
A 54% majority of Americans agree with the recent federal court order requiring Elian to remain in the United States until his appeal for political asylum is heard next month. Close to two-thirds of the public, 63%, believe the Miami relatives should be able to visit Elian in Washington, D.C. as soon as possible, as they are attempting to do.

For now, public opinion about Elian's future is remarkably nonpartisan. Republicans and Democrats tend to view the situation similarly, with a majority of both groups approving of Saturday's raid and believing Elian should return to Cuba. Republicans are also no more likely than Democrats to believe the use of force in retrieving Elian was excessive. Whether this pattern will be sustained, now that some members of Congress are criticizing the Justice Department's action and threatening congressional hearings, remains to be seen.

Survey Methods
The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 613 adults, 18 years and older, conducted April 22, 2000, between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. Eastern time. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 4 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. 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.

As you may know, federal agents physically removed Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives early this morning, and have taken him to Washington D.C. to reunite him with his father. Do you approve or disapprove of that action?

Approve 57%
Disapprove 37
No opinion 6

How strongly do you feel about your view on that matter -- strongly, or not so strongly?

Strongly approve 48%
Not so strongly approve 9
Not so strongly disapprove 7
Strongly disapprove 30
No opinion 6

Which of the following solutions do you think would be in the best interests of the boy -- [ROTATE: 1) For him to remain in the U.S. to live with relatives who have requested he stay here, (or) 2) For him to live with his father in Cuba, as his father has requested]?

  Remain in U.S. Live with father in Cuba OTHER (vol.) No opinion
  % % % %
2000 Apr 22 27 59 7 7
2000 Apr 7-9 31 60 4 5
2000 Mar 30-Apr 2 31 56 5 8
2000 Feb 14-15 36 55 4 5
2000 Jan 25-26 33 60 3 4
1999 Dec 9-12 45 45 3 7

From what you know about today's actions, do you think the government agents involved used too much force or about the right amount of force in removing Elian Gonzalez from the Miami home?

Used too much force 40%
Used right amount of force 36
No opinion 23

Do you agree or disagree that the federal government did all it could to settle this situation without using force?

Agree 54%
Disagree 38
No opinion 8

Now thinking about the Elian Gonzalez situation overall, since it started last November, do you approve or disapprove of the way each of the following have handled the situation? (Random order)

  Approve Disapprove No opinion
President Clinton 42% 42 16
Attorney General Janet Reno 45% 46 9
Al Gore 23% 42 35
Elian Gonzalez relatives in Miami 31% 59 10
The news media 30% 66 4

In terms of the news TODAY, have you, yourself, happened to see any of the television coverage TODAY concerning Elian Gonzalez?

Yes 56%
No 44
No opinion *

In the news coverage you've seen today, did you happen to see (Rotate A-B)? How about … ?


  Yes, saw footage No, did not see footage/ Did not see any coverage
A. Photos or news footage of Elian Gonzalez being physically removed from the Miami home 42% 58
B. Photos or news footage of Elian Gonzalez being reunited with his father 18% 82

As you may know, the Miami relatives are on their way to Washington, D.C. where they hope to be able to visit with Elian Gonzalez. In your view, should the Miami relatives be allowed to visit with Elian Gonzalez as soon as possible, or not?

Yes, visit as soon as possible 63%
No, not visit as soon as possible 31
No opinion 6

A federal court has ordered that Elian Gonzalez must remain in the United States until a court scheduled to hear his case next month reviews his case. [ROTATE 1-2: 1) Do you agree with that decision that Elian must remain in the U.S. until then (or) 2) Do you think Elian's father should be able to return to Cuba with Elian before then]?

Agree Elian should remain in U.S. until court review 54%
Think should be able to return to Cuba before then 41
No opinion 5

* Less than 0.5%
(vol.) Volunteered response

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