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Public Still Worried Even with Saddam in the Slammer

With the capture of Saddam has the public become more positive about the war in Iraq? Undoubtedly, though if the situation in Iraq remains messy and attacks on US troops continue, that increase in positive views will dissipate fairly rapidly, just as with Bush’s post-capture gains in job approval and other indicators (see DR’s December 19 post).

But it’s striking how much the public remains concerned about the Iraq situation, even with Saddam cooling his heels in US captivity. This is especially true of indicators that relate the results of the Iraq war to its costs. (Questions that ask generally about whether we “should have taken military action” or whether using military force was “the right decision” or whether Iraq was “worth going to war” elicit strong positive reactions and are likely to continue to do so, since they leave out the real world costs and benefits of these actions.)

For example, in the latest CBS News poll, a plurality still says “the result of the war with Iraq” was not worth “the loss of American life and other costs” (49 percent to 44 percent). That’s down from the 54 percent to 39 percent judgement on this question right before Saddam’s capture, but still negative.

A question on whether these costs were worth removing Saddam from power elicits a more positive reaction, since mentioning removing Saddam from power focuses respondents’ attention on the most positive aspect of the Iraq war’s results. But even here, 37 percent still say, right after Saddam was captured, that this gain wasn’t worth the costs.

The CBS News poll also reports that, by 53 percent to 34 percent, the public still doesn’t think the Bush administration has developed a clear plan for rebuilding Iraq after the war. In addition, 61 percent say that the Bush administration was either hiding elements (45 percent) or mostly lying (16 percent) about what they knew about Iraq’s WMD. And, it’s fascinating to note that 52 percent still think either that the Iraq threat could have been contained (37 percent) or that it wasn’t a threat at all (15 percent), compared to 44 percent who believe Iraq’s threat merited immediate military action.

The CBS News poll also finds that only 24 percent believe the capture of Saddam will reduce attacks on US troops, compared to 52 percent who believe they will stay the same and 19 percent who believe they will increase. Similarly, just 19 percent believe the threat of terrorism against the US will decrease as a result of Saddam’s capture, compared to 60 percent who believe the threat will remain the same and 18 percent who believe it will increase.

These data suggest the administration isn’t out of the woods yet in terms of public perception about the Iraq situation. In fact, given the level of public concern still out there, unless the situation in Iraq does clear up dramatically, the administration seems likely to wind up right back in those woods fairly soon.

Comments

"The CBS News poll also finds that only 24 percent believe the capture of Saddam will reduce attacks on US troops, compared to 52 percent who believe they will stay the same and 19 percent who believe they will increase. Similarly, just 19 percent believe the threat of terrorism against the US will decrease as a result of Saddam’s capture, compared to 60 percent who believe the threat will remain the same and 18 percent who believe it will increase."

And as we celebrate our new safety with an orange alert, has anyone informed the omnipotent Washington Post, those of the opinion that " It is Mr. Dean's position on Iraq, however, that would be hardest to defend in a general election campaign" of this poll? Apparently, the only place where "the capture of Saddam Hussein has not made America safer" is a fringe belief is inside the beltway.