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Poll Analysis
February 11, 2003

Related: The Denver Post report of the poll

Cautious Support for War in Iraq
People Want Proof, Allies, and are Willing to Wait

Analysis by Floyd Ciruli

A series of post-State of the Union surveys indicate that using force to remove Saddam Hussein from power has the support of the majority of Americans. A just completed statewide Colorado survey by Ciruli Associates for the Denver Post shows 53 percent of residents support use of military force; 42 percent oppose.

Support and Opposition for Military Force in Iraq Post-State of the Union
. Colorado National
Denver Post
Washington Post
L.A. Times
Favor 53% 66% 57% 58%
Oppose 42% 31% 38% 38%
Don't Know 5% 3% 5% 4%

Question: As of today, do you favor or oppose having U.S. forces take military action against Iraq to try to remove Saddam Hussein from power? Ciruli Associates, N500, 1/30/03

Question: Would you favor or oppose having U.S. forces take military action against Iraq to force Saddam Hussein from power? Washington Post/ABC News, N855, 2/01/03

Question: Suppose President George W. Bush decides to order U.S. troops into a ground attack against Iraqi forces. Would you support or oppose that decision? L.A. Times, N1385, 2/02/03

Question: Would you favor or oppose invading Iraq with U.S. ground troops in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power? Gallup, N1003, 2/02/03

The public is cautious about the possibility of war. While they generally believe that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and that disarming him is important, 70 percent say they are prepared to wait for inspectors and would prefer to have a U.N. resolution, or as many allies as possible. However, if President Bush decides to use military force he is very likely to have the support of a majority of Coloradans.

Among the main findings from the Denver Post Colorado poll and recent national surveys are the following:

  • Support for military action in Iraq ranges from 53 percent to 66 percent. Fifty-three percent of Colorado residents who were interviewed immediately after the State of the Union speech offered support. National polls over the weekend after the State of the Union speech showed a high of 66% (Washington Post) and 57% and 58% from the L.A. Times and Gallup, respectively.

    Among Coloradans polled, the majority of viewers of the president’s speech had already made up their minds. Two-thirds of Colorado residents said they watched Bush’s speech, but only 6 percent said it changed their minds (although the president picked up 70 percent of those viewers). Half said the president presented sufficient reasons to use force; 44 percent said he did not.

  • The higher levels of support for military action in national polls may be partially explained by a rally effect from the Columbia tragedy and the generally positive news and commentary from Thursday, Jan. 30 through the weekend, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s continued support and Secretary of State Colin Powell’s scheduled presentation to the U.N. Security Council. A national poll taken after Secretary Powell’s presentation shows support for military action climbed to 70 percent (Newsweek, N1003, 2/07/03).

  • Helping the administration’s case is the fact that most people believe there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (87% in Colorado, 85% in the nation, New York Times, 1/22/03). They also feel a terrorist attack on the U.S. is likely (72% very or somewhat likely in Colorado and 62% nationally, New York Times, 1/22/03).

  • Sixty-nine percent of Coloradans believe stopping terrorists from gaining weapons of mass destruction is the administration’s main reason for military force. Even 46 percent of opponents of military action believe that. However, opponents believe removing Saddam Hussein from power is the main goal of the administration (52%). Oil also is believed among opponents to be an important reason for the administration (48%). However only 17 percent of supporters agree.

  • One quarter of Colorado residents support beginning the war now rather than waiting for more inspections. That figure corresponds to national polling results (L.A. Times, 2/02/03, 21% “take action now”). In Colorado, the core support for military action may be higher. Even without a U.N. sanction, more allies, direct evidence of weapons of mass destruction and with the possibility of high casualties, support for military action never dropped below 40 percent.?• National polls show a polar opposite group of approximately 15 percent that appears to reject military action regardless of the conditions (12% no military action justified, L.A. Times, 2/02/03). As few as 5 percent and as many as one third of Colorado voters are intensely opposed to the war. A few do not believe Hussein has weapons of mass destruction (5% Colorado) or that he is a threat; they insist on U.N. authorization (39% Colorado) and allies (34% Colorado) and believe the war will take more than six months (26% Colorado). They tend to rate President Bush’s performance in office very poorly (32% anti war/anti Bush). Some believe the real threat to world peace is U.S. foreign and military policy.

  • Much of the post-9/11 national unity on foreign policy has dissipated. Increasingly, hawk and dove positions on Iraq correspond to partisan preference. Party identification is a major factor in opinion regarding the use of force; Republicans are strongly in favor (72%) and Democrats (60%) are opposed. Also, support and opposition to military action is closely related to approval and disapproval of President Bush’s job performance.

Characteristics of Colorado Residents
Most Strongly For and Against Military Action in Iraq
Total 53% 42%
Approve Bush/ job performance 80% 14%
Republican 72% 21%
War will take 1-2 months 62% 32%
Protect Israel top reason for war 58% 38%
Iraq has weapons of mass destruction 57% 37%
Male 57% 39%
Income $40,000-$79,000 55% 40%
Female 47% 46%
Income $39,999 or less 46% 50%
War will take longer than 6 months 39% 62%
Democrat 38% 60%
Wait for more inspection 35% 59%
Controlling Iraq oil fields top reason for war 29% 68%
Disapprove Bush’s performance 13% 83%
Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction 7% 93%

  • Voters who change their position on the war depending on the circumstances comprise about 30 to 40 percent of the electorate. They will support a military action but are cautious and concerned about high casualties and the length of time a war could last. They form the bulk of those who want more time for inspectors and prefer more allies. However, they also believe Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, and that disarming or removing him is important. When core support for the war is combined with these swing voters, Bush has majority support for military action.

  • A majority of the public (51%) believes a war in Iraq will take longer than six months. Women (62%) are most inclined to believe a war would take more than six months.

    Length of War Compared to Gender
    TOTAL 16% 51%
    Male 24% 39%
    Female 9% 62%
    Ciruli Associates, N500, 2003

  • The president’s approval ratings have declined from their post 9/11 stratospheric highs, but are holding in the mid-50s in Colorado as a likely war nears.

    Presidential Approval
    Colorado Surveys of Registered Voters
    June '01 Jan. '02 July '02 Jan. '03 Jan. '03
    Approve 56% 83% 69% 61% 55%
    Disapprove 39% 12% 25% 33% 38%
    Don't Know/refused 5% 5% 6% 6% 7%
    Ciruli Associates, N500, 2003

  • The economy remains a significant challenge for the president. He receives his lowest approval ratings for the economy (42% approve/50% disapprove in Colorado). People are concerned that the recovery has stalled; job growth is at a 20-year low and a fourth negative year for Wall Street hearkens back to 1929. Geo-political problems, especially the potential war in Iraq, are contributing to economic insecurity.?• National polls also track the president’s lower approval numbers. However, national approval ratings also appear to be holding in the mid-50s to low-60 range. This mirrors the pattern seen in Gulf War I in 1990 and 1991 with President George Bush.

    Presidential Approval Ratings
    George W. Bush—2003
    Date Approve Disapprove Spread
    Newsweek 2/06-2/07 61% 31% 30%
    CBS News 2/05-2/06 63% 28% 35%
    NBC News/WSJ 2/05 61% 31 30
    CNN/Gallup/USA Today 1/31-2/02 61% 35% 26%
    L.A. Times 1/30-2/02 56% 39% 17%
    ABC News/Washington Post 1/31-2/01 62% 34% 28%
    CNN/Gallup/USA Today 1/23-1/25 60% 36% 24%
    Newsweek 1/23-1/24 55% 38% 17%
    CBS News/NY Times 1/19-1/22 59% 35% 24%
    NBC News/WSJ 1/19-1/20 54% 40% 14%
    ABC News/Washington Post 1/16-1/20 59% 38% 21%
    Ciruli Associates, N500, 2003

  • It is likely the president will benefit from an often-observed rally effect once military action starts. In 1990, during the run up to the first Gulf War, President George Bush’s approval rating declined from the mid-60s during most of the year to the mid-50s—low-60s in the 60 days prior to the war starting on January 16, 1991. From that point on the public rallied around the president and his approval leaped to the 80s and remained above the 70 percent range for eight months. (There was about a 30-day rally to the mid-70s after August 2 when Iraq invaded Kuwait and the president first responded).

    Gulf War I 1991
    President George Bush Approval Ratings
    Approve Disapprove
    Aug. 9-12, 1990 74% 16%
    Dec. 6-9, 1990 58% 33%
    Jan. 11-13, 1991 64% 25%
    Jan. 17-21, 1991 82% 12%
    Gallup, 1990, 1991
  • Support for war is likely to increase with hostilities. In Iraq in 1990, support dropped from the 70s in August and September to the upper-50s to the mid-60s in the two months before combat. It remained steady until the war began. It then jumped to the 80s and remained there during the duration of combat.

    Gulf War I 1991
    Use of Military Force
    Favor going
    to war
    Oppose going
    to war
    Dec. 6-9, 1990 61% 33%
    Jan. 11-13, 1991 63% 33%

    Approve going
    to war
    Disapprove going
    to war
    Jan. 17-21, 1991 80% 15%
    Gallup, 1990, 1991

  • In this conflict the president’s approval ratings will likely rest directly on the speed, cost and success of military action. The large block of swing voters, compiled with questions concerning the timing and conditions of war suggest that if the invasion bogs down, and if the costs in soldiers and money escalate, the administration could face a rapid deterioration of public support. On the other hand, if the war takes only a few weeks, with few casualties and a successful conclusion, Bush and his team are likely to be well rewarded in public opinion.


  • Telephone survey of 500 Colorado adult residents was conducted by Ciruli Associates from January 29 to January 30, 2003 for the Denver Post. Respondents were selected by random digit dialing with a random sample of statewide area telephone exchanges.

  • Statistical range of accuracy in 19 out of 20 cases is ±4.3 percentage points for a sample size of 500.

  • Ciruli Associates is a non-partisan research firm providing polling, election analysis and political commentary to Colorado and national media organizations since 1976.


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