International Opinion on War in Iraq
The outpouring of sentiment across the world against the possibility of war in Iraq, coupled with polls that show majority opposition to war in many European countries, has put President Bush in a difficult position. On Feb. 17, Patrick Tyler of the New York Times highlighted the situation in a front-page analysis ("A New Power in the Streets"), stating that there "may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion."
It's clear (and not surprising) that support of the Bush administration's stance on Iraq is stronger in the United States than in other nations for which there are poll results. Gallup Polls in Canada and Great Britain, for example, show that only 36% and 38% of the citizens of those two countries, respectively, favor U.S. military action against Iraq. That's about 20 points lower than support in the United States.
American Public Opinion on Iraq
It's too early to gauge the impact of last week's U.N. actions and the worldwide anti-war protests on American public opinion. But we do know that Americans' support for war with Iraq is soft and subject to fairly quick change.
One key: Despite their underlying support for the concept of military action, Americans are generally reluctant to go to war and are supportive of attempts to find other ways of resolving disputes that will avoid bloodshed.
The percentage of Americans in favor of military action drops significantly when poll respondents are given alternatives such as waiting for U.N. resolutions, waiting for allied support, or giving the inspectors in Iraq more time. For example, while 63% of Americans in Gallup's latest Feb. 7-9 poll favored military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power, only 40% said they supported the idea of moving quickly against Iraq when that choice was juxtaposed against two other alternatives: waiting to give the inspectors more time, or not engaging in military action at all.
This reluctance to go to war has existed for as long as we've had polling about war. Americans were hesitant to endorse U.S. involvement in World War II before Pearl Harbor, and certainly were cautious about war in the months leading up to the Persian Gulf War in 1990 and 1991.
It is clear that most Americans have little ability to judge for themselves exactly what is going on in Iraq. Americans accept the basic premises of the Bush administration's case against Iraq. They want Saddam removed from power, as they have since the Gulf War ended in 1991. But Americans also welcome the idea of getting the confirmation and support of allies and the United Nations -- most likely because such support would serve as a sign that other alternatives to war have been exhausted. If such confirmation doesn't occur in the weeks ahead, and the United States moves against Iraq more or less unilaterally, American support for the war may be lower than it would be if the effort is one involving a united international effort.
The news reports of anti-war protests over the weekend emphasized the diverse nature of the anti-war protesters. But adamant war opposition among Americans tends to conform to a fairly definite pattern. Those most opposed are older and have high levels of education. Women are more likely than men to be opposed, and blacks are more opposed than whites. Opposition is very high among those Americans who identify themselves as Democrats and liberals.
Although Bush was the target of many of the protests this past weekend, his job approval rating among Americans has been holding up fairly well -- averaging 60% over eight separate Gallup Polls conducted since Jan. 1. Gallup's latest measure of Bush job approval is 61% (Feb. 7-9). Gallup's next rating will be available later this week and will help establish if the U.N. rebuke and the protests have hurt the president's standing among his own people.
Mood of America
Reporters continue to focus on how the pending war in Iraq, the terrorism alerts, and the stumbling economy may be affecting the American public's psyche. Americans' overall level of satisfaction with the way things are going is in the mid-range at 40% -- down from last year, but certainly not as low as at other points in the past. According to our January Mood of America poll, Americans were maintaining a resolute stiff upper lip, with 85% saying they were satisfied with the way things were going in their personal lives and 86% saying that their mood was good. Neither of these percentages were changed much from previous years.
America's Role in the World
Even before the weekend's protests, Americans were aware of how the potential war may have adversely affected the way others around the world view Bush and the United States. In early February, only 46% of Americans said that leaders around the world respect Bush, down 29 points from last year at this time. Fifty-seven percent said that the United States has a favorable image in the eyes of the world, down 22 points from last year.
Bush's Focus on the Economy
Bush speaks on the economy this Thursday in Atlanta, as part of his administration's continuing effort to keep at least some focus on domestic concerns in the midst of the build-up to war. It's a well-timed effort according to Americans, who believe that the economy is more important to the country than the situation in Iraq.
There is little doubt that Bush will continue to focus on tax cuts as his recommended remedy for the bad economic times. But remarks by Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan last week were widely interpreted as indicating at least a mild pullback from the administration's focus on tax cuts. Greenspan argued that the federal deficit is of critical importance to the nation's economic health. This sentiment is echoed by the American public, who says by a 52% to 37% margin that fixing the deficit is more important than tax relief.
Will War in Iraq Rally the Economy?
Would a resolution of the Iraq situation make a big difference in the public's confidence in the economy? Last week, some reports suggested that the markets will rebound if, and when, war breaks out in Iraq. (A Feb. 13 Washington Post analysis was headlined: "Wall Street Sits Tight as War Looms: Experts See Relief Rally After Bombs Start to Fall.") Greenspan told the Senate Banking Committee that the economy will remain sluggish unless and until the situation with Iraq is resolved.
But Americans' negative views about the economy are not simply a result of uncertainty about war. As long ago as September 2001, 7 in 10 Americans were telling Gallup that the U.S. economy was getting worse. That was just before the terrorist attacks, and long before the Bush administration ratcheted up the pressure on Iraq. So consumers may continue to feel negative about the economy even after the situation with Iraq is resolved, one way or the other.
We also have good historical evidence to suggest that the end of war doesn't always bring about an uptick in consumer optimism. There was great anxiety about both war and the economy -- just as there is now -- in the months leading up to the Gulf War in January 1991. Once the Gulf War was successfully concluded in late February 1991, the public's overall levels of satisfaction and approval of the president skyrocketed.
But this is the crucial point: the end of the 1991 war had little positive impact on Americans' negative views of the economy. In some ways, it seemed that the end of the uncertainty over the war freed up the public to focus even more intently on the bad economy. The public's ratings of the way President George H. W. Bush was handling the economy were 50 points lower than his overall approval rating in March 1991. The economy remained the No. 1 problem in the eyes of the public. Consumer worry about the economy plummeted to record lows by 1992 and -- of course -- the senior Bush went down in defeat in his bid for re-election.
Investigators continue to look at possible causes of the Feb. 1 space shuttle disaster. Last week, NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe was on Capitol Hill before a joint hearing of House and Senate committees, testifying about the space agency, the shuttle disaster, and the future of the space program. A quarter of Americans say that NASA's budget should be increased. This is up a little -- but not dramatically -- from previous points in time. Support for continuing manned space flights is high. Three in 10 Americans would like to be a passenger on a space shuttle themselves, a number that is just slightly lower than in previous years.
Dolly, the cloned sheep, was euthanized (at age 6) this past week in Scotland, after becoming one of the most famous sheep in history. Despite cloning's scientific promise across a wide variety of health and medical frontiers, all of our polling shows that the public is adamantly opposed to cloning as it relates to humans.