By Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Seven in 10 Americans believe that al-Qaeda is as strong as or stronger than it was before Sept. 11, 2001, and a majority of those with that view blamed President Bush for the terrorist network's continued resilience.
The results, from a Washington Post-ABC News poll, come after the release of a new National Intelligence Estimate concluding that the United States "will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years," particularly from al-Qaeda.
Nearly six years after the Sept. 11 attacks, 26 percent of individuals polled said al-Qaeda is weaker now, while 44 percent considered the terrorist network to be at similar strength and 27 percent believed it to be even more capable.
In a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation-Harvard University poll conducted last month, barely half said the country is safer now than it was before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Much like opinions on the war in Iraq, perceptions of the battle against terrorism and al-Qaeda's strength diverged along partisan lines in the new poll.
More than 40 percent of Republicans said they believe the group is weaker now, whereas 27 percent of independents and only 15 percent of Democrats shared that view.
Among those who said the group is stronger or about the same as it was before the attacks, 55 percent assigned a "great deal" or a "good amount" of blame to the president. A third of Republicans who said al-Qaeda is at least as capable also blamed the president.
At the same time, two-thirds of those who said the terrorist organization is now weaker said Bush deserved the credit.
Overall, 43 percent approved of how the president is handling the U.S. campaign against terrorism. That is 10 percentage points higher than his overall approval rating but the lowest he has scored in Post-ABC News polls -- conducted since October 2001 -- on what was once his signature issue.
Congressional Democrats do not fare any better. Only 37 percent of those polled approved of how the new congressional leadership is handling terrorism. That rating is down 14 points since April.
The Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone July 18-21 among a random national sample of 1,125 adults. The results from the full survey have a three-percentage-point margin of sampling error.