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Americans Divided On U.S. Troops In Bosnia

by David W. Moore


PRINCETON, NJ -- American approval of U.S. troops in Bosnia is now the highest it has been since the first Gallup poll on this issue two years ago. But despite President Clinton's bipartisan trip to the region over the weekend, accompanied by 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, Americans tilt against Clinton's decision to keep troops in Bosnia beyond the originally scheduled departure date next June.

Two years ago, in December, 1995, Americans disapproved of the presence of U.S. troops in Bosnia by a 54% to 41% margin. In subsequent polls through last June, disapproval remained at about the same level. But according to the latest Gallup poll, conducted over the past weekend while Clinton was visiting the Bosnian region, more people now approve than disapprove of the presence of U.S. troops there -- by 49% to 43%.

The slight margin of approval becomes a slight margin of disapproval, however, when respondents are asked about Clinton's decision to keep U.S. troops in Bosnia beyond next June, when American and European troops were scheduled to be withdrawn. By 50% to 43%, Americans disapprove of the extension.

Key to Approval: Understanding U.S. Policy in Bosnia
Overall, only about a quarter of Americans think the Clinton administration has a clear policy in Bosnia, and just 40% think they understand that policy. Among those who say they understand it, substantial majorities support both the current U.S. effort as well as Clinton's announced extension.

Claiming an understanding of the administration's policy in Bosnia is largely nonpartisan: 37% of Republicans and 41% each of independents and Democrats make that claim. Those who say they understand the policy support the current role of U.S. troops in Bosnia by a margin of 64% to 33%, and also support Clinton's extension of U.S. troops presence in that region by 59% to 39%.

Approval: Still Related to Partisan Orientation
Despite the fact that Republicans and Democrats appear to be equally likely to say they understand Clinton's Bosnia policy, support for that policy has a strong partisan element to it. Democrats support both current policy and the extension, while Republicans tilt slightly against current policy and are firmly opposed to the extension.

Still, among those Republicans who say they understand the Clinton administration's policy in Bosnia, majorities support both the current presence of U.S. troops in that region, as well as the extension.

The current results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,005 adults, conducted December 18-21, 1997. For results based on a sample of this size, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects could be plus or minus 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.

From what you have heard or read, do you think the Clinton Administration has a clear and well-thought-out policy on the Bosnian situation, or don't you think so?

  Jun 1995 Dec 1997
Yes 25% 28%
No 65 60
No opinion 10 12
  ___ ___
  100 100
Do you understand or don't you understand the Clinton Administration's policy on Bosnia?

Yes, understand 40%
No, do not understand 53
No opinion 7
Do you approve or disapprove of the presence of U.S. troops in Bosnia?

  Approve Disapprove No opinion
1997 Dec 18 - 21 49% 43 8
1997 Jun 26 - 29 39% 53 8
1996 May 28 - 29 42% 51 7
1997 Jan 5 - 7 36% 58 6
1995 Dec 15 - 18 41% 54 5
By Selected Subgroups
Dec 18-21, 1997
  Approve Disapprove No opinion
Republicans 45% 49 6
Democrats 53% 40 7
Independents 49% 41 10
Bosnia policy      
Understand 64% 33 3
Don't understand 40% 51 9
As you may know, the U.S. troops currently stationed in Bosnia along with troops from other Western European countries were originally scheduled to be withdrawn from Bosnia by June. President Clinton recently announced that U.S. troops would remain in Bosnia beyond that deadline. Do you approve or disapprove of Clinton's decision to extend their stay?
  Approve Disapprove No opinion
Total 43% 50 7
Republicans 37% 59 4
Democrats 52% 40 8
Independents 40% 49 11
Bosnia policy      
Understand 59% 39 2
Don't understand 34% 60 6

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