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Poll Analysis
February 25, 2003

Support for War and President Bush Holding
Analysis by Floyd Ciruli

In spite of considerable United Nations-member resistance, worldwide street demonstrations and nearly around-the-clock cable news coverage, the circumstances surrounding the run-up to a war in Iraq are consolidating support for President Bush and his proposed military action. The most recent Gallup polls shows that after a dip in support in late January, public approval is holding at a substantial majority of 59 percent.

Question: Would you favor or oppose invading Iraq with U.S. ground troops in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power?

Although support for military action has never gone below 50 percent, there has been considerable volatility. The Gallup poll of Feb. 9, shortly after Secretary of State Powell’s U.N. presentation, showed support surging to 63 percent. In that poll, more Americans were firm in their opinion (37%, up from 31% a week earlier). Also increasing was the percentage of Americans who felt the Bush administration has made a convincing case for military action: 56% compared to 49% in late January.

This is the second in a series of regular reports from Ciruli Associates on public opinion related to a war in Iraq. On January 30, Ciruli Associates conducted a Colorado poll on war in Iraq. The polling data and analysis of that poll can be found on www.ciruli.com.

Support for Military Action Still Qualified
Although support for military action has increased, the public continues to be cautious and a significant number qualify their support. More than a third of the public is still opposed to military action, and a majority still prefers to wait a few weeks for more inspections and for a U.N. resolution. The impact of the peace demonstrations and French and German resistance to military action reduced some of the bounce the administration achieved from the State of the Union and Powell presentation. However, it appears that the public is firm in its belief that weapons of mass destruction exist, Iraq is not cooperating and is a long-term threat to America.

Reasons for Stronger Administration Position
A host of recent national polls confirm the upward trend in support for military action. The Newsweek poll, at 70 percent, reports the highest level of support.

  • Both men and women (71% each) support voting requirements for tax increases and limits on spending by 76% and 73%, respectively.

  • Both homeowners and renters (70% each) support tax limits and limits on spending by 74% and 76%, respectively.

  • Tax limits are supported by Whites, 72%; Hispanics, 77%; and Blacks, 71%. Spending limits are supported by Whites, 74%; Hispanics, 74%; and Blacks, 76%.

  • Interestingly, wealthy residents are the least supportive of TABOR income limits, although their support equals or exceeds 60%:

    Gulf War II—2003
    Use of Military Force
    Source Date Favor Oppose
    ABC News/Washington Post 2/19-2/23 63% 31%
    CBS News/NY Times 2/10-2/12 66% 29%
    ABC News/Washington Post 2/09 66% 31%
    Newsweek 2/06-2/07 70% 25%
    ABC News/Washington Post 2/05 67% 27%
    L.A. Times 1/30-2/02 57% 38%
    ABC News/Washington Post 1/28 63% 32%
    Newsweek 1/23-1/24 60% 35%
    Source: Ciruli Associates, 2003

There are a variety of factors that are helping the administration’s position:

The Bully Pulpit
The State of the Union speech is preeminent political theater and Bush received a significant bounce from it.

Powell’s U.N. Presentation
Colin Powell is the most credible member of the administration on the issue of war in Iraq. His U.N. presentation received national attention and made the administration’s case for most people. Powell also made it much harder for mainstream opposition politicians to claim there is no threat or that delay is warranted.

Axis of Weasels
As Bill Clinton’s impeachment survival demonstrated, an embattled politician’s greatest asset can be the image of his adversaries—in Clinton’s case Speaker Gingrich, Ken Starr and conservative activists. The reputation of France and Germany has collapsed in recent weeks with Americans. They are increasingly seen as appeasers, hypocrites and ingrates.

Pre-War Weariness
No polling data is available but if war is inevitable people appear eager to get it over with, revive the economy and get on with their lives.

The American Street is Rising
Bush and the administration are benefiting from the well-known phenomenon of America supporting its president in national crisis. A rally effect was apparent after 9/11 and the first Gulf War.

Presidential Approval
The president’s approval rating appears to have improved post his State of the Union speech and as the diplomatic and military preparations for war appear to be concluding.

Presidential Approval Ratings
George W. Bush—2003
Source Date Approve Disapprove Spread
ABC News/Washington Post 2/19-2/23 60% 34% 26%
CNN/USA Today/Gallup 2/17-2/19 59% 38% 21%
CBS News/NY Times 2/10-2/12 54% 38% 16%
CNN/USA Today/Gallup 2/07-2/09 61% 34% 27%
ABC News/Washington Post 2/06-2/09 64% 34% 30%
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/USA Today/Gallup 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/USA Today/Gallup 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%
Source: Ciruli Associates, 2003

However, news concerning the clash over Iraq moves quickly. The CBS News/New York Times poll showed a dip in support. More than a quarter of the respondents (26%) claimed to not have an opinion, which is much higher than usual. Clearly there is a volatile environment for the president, but his support from the American people appears to be holding.

  • 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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