By Jon Cohen and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 11, 2007 12:50 PM
A majority of Americans oppose sending additional troops to Iraq as outlined by President Bush in his nationally televised address Wednesday night, and just one-in-three Americans said the plan for more troops and a stepped up combat efforts by Iraqi forces make victory there more likely, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The findings of the survey, conducted after Bush's primetime speech, represent an initial rebuke to the White House goal of generating additional public support for the mission in Iraq. The poll found that 61 percent of Americans oppose sending more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq, with 52 percent saying they strongly oppose the plan. Just 36 percent said they back the president's new proposal.
Bush fared better among the 42 percent of Americans who actually watched the speech. Among that group, 47 percent support sending more troops, while 51 percent oppose. But the President's supporters were disproportionately represented among the audience.
Congressional Democrats strongly oppose the plan to send more troops and are weighing a series of steps to confront the president, with some advocating action to deny funding for the additional brigades being sent to Iraq. On that issue, the Post-ABC News poll found that 53 percent of Americans support Democrats' efforts to cut off funds for additional troops, with 44 percent opposed.
But as the battle in Congress heats up, Bush has gained ground against his Democratic adversaries on the question of who Americans trust to deal with Iraq. A month ago, in the wake of the midterm elections that saw Republicans lose their congressional majorities, 56 percent of Americans said they trusted Democrats as compared to 32 percent who said they trusted Bush more. Democrats still lead but by a diminished margin. In the new poll, 47 percent said they trusted the Democrats to 36 percent who said they trusted Bush.
Public opinion long ago soured on the war and on Bush's policies, and the president's speech on Wednesday did little to change those underlying fundamentals. Only two in five (40 percent) said the war was worth fighting. While that is slightly better than the 36 percent figure recorded in a poll a month ago, it is consistent with polls dating back almost two years.
Similarly, just 34 percent said they approve of Bush's handling of the war, another slight tick up from last month but a measure of the broad disapproval of the president's leadership that has been evident since 2005.
Americans are even more pessimistic than before about the state of the conflict. In the new poll, 57 percent said the United States is not winning war, the highest yet recorded. That comes after even Bush acknowledged setbacks and mistakes and after he and new Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have said they United States is not winning at this point. In December 2005, 56 percent of Americans said the United States was winning the war.
Bush maintained his belief that victory is possible, but Americans are skeptical. A majority of Americans (53 percent) said Bush's plan for more troops will make no difference whether the war can be won or lost. Thirty-six percent, however, said sending the new troops will make winning more likely while 10 percent said it makes defeat more likely. Similarly only about one-third of those surveyed said the troop increases will help end the war more quickly.
Bush stressed in his speech the role that Iraqis are expected to play in helping to restore order, particularly in Baghdad, but the poll found deep skepticism toward the Iraqi government. Forty-one percent said they are somewhat or very confident in the Iraqi government's ability to quell the violence while 57 percent said they were not confident.
Bush proposed setting goals for the Iraqis to meet in the next phase of the conflict. An overwhelming majority of Americans (71 percent) said the United States should reduce military and financial support for the war if the Iraqi government fails to achieve those goals.
Americans remain deeply divided over the president's assertion that winning the war in Iraq is crucial to success in the global campaign against terrorism. Forty-five percent said winning in Iraq is crucial, while 47 percent said the United States can be successful in terrorism without winning in Iraq.
The poll found sharp partisan divisions on nearly every question relating to Iraq, which grows out of the political polarization that has occurred during Bush's presidency. On the question of whether congressional Democrats should cut off funds for additional forces, 83 percent of Democrats said yes and 81 percent of Republicans said no. Among independents, 51 percent support a cutoff in funding while 47 percent oppose it.
Democrats almost universally oppose Bush's plan. In the poll, 94 percent of Democrats said they were against sending more troops. Republicans were far more supportive, with 73 percent supporting Bush's plan. But nearly a quarter of Republicans in the poll said they opposed more troops, and those signs of dissent with the president's party are being echoed by some Republican lawmakers.
Although majorities of men and women oppose sending more troops to Iraq, there is a gender gap on that issue. Fifty-six percent of men oppose the president's plan while 66 percent of women oppose it. Women also are more likely to support efforts in Congress to cut off funding, with 57 percent saying they would back Democratic moves to do so compared to 48 percent of men.
Sixty percent of Americans between ages 18 and 39 support cutting off funding, compared to 51 percent of those between 40 and 59 and 43 percent of Americans over age 60.
This Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 10, among a random national sample of 502 adults. The results have a 4.5-point error margin.