Poll Shows More Optimism on War

By Jennifer Agiesta and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 14, 2007

A year after approval of President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq dipped to an all-time low, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds discontent toward the war easing slightly, with Republicans and independents significantly more positive about the situation than they were 12 months ago.

Baseline judgments about the war are unchanged -- six in 10 in the poll said the war is not worth fighting -- but the public is somewhat more upbeat about progress in Iraq. Optimism about the year ahead is also higher than it was a year ago.

Although a majority say the United States is not making significant gains toward restoring civil order in Iraq, the public's views are more positive than at this time last year. About four in 10 say the United States is making progress, an increase of 10 percentage points over last year.

Looking ahead to the new year, the public is somewhat more hopeful about the situation in Iraq. Forty-six percent said they are optimistic about the situation in Iraq in 2008, six points higher than in December 2006.

The improved public assessment comes as the rate of U.S. casualties and the violence in general in Iraq have declined. The war has also recently been overshadowed by other issues on the presidential campaign trail.

Movement in public assessment on the war is largely driven by a more positive outlook among Republicans.

Nearly eight in 10 Republicans, 77 percent, said the United States is improving the security situation in Iraq, up from 54 percent a year ago. Three-quarters of Republicans are optimistic about the year ahead in Iraq; 12 months ago, barely more than half felt that way.

A majority of independents continue to see a lack of progress, but the percentage seeing significant gains is up 14 points, to 42 percent. At the same time, independents are about as pessimistic as they were. Democrats remain overwhelmingly negative about the situation on the ground now and in the year ahead.

Democrats are still largely disapproving of the decision to go to war, with 85 percent saying that, given the costs and benefits to the United States, the war is not worth fighting. More than six in 10 independents agree, whereas three-quarters of Republicans call the war worth the effort. These numbers have shifted only marginally, as 37 percent of all Americans call the war worth fighting, nearly identical to the percentage saying so in December 2006.

As was true a year ago, the intensity of opinion runs against the war. Twice as many said they feel "strongly" that the Iraq war is not worth fighting as those who feel strongly that it is.

Nor has there been a fundamental change on troop withdrawal. The public remains divided, with a narrow majority, 53 percent, favoring withdrawal regardless of conditions on the ground and 43 percent in favor of keeping forces in Iraq until civil order is restored, even with continued U.S. military casualties.

Still, President Bush's approval ratings on the war have improved: One-third of those polled rate his handling of the war positively, up from his career low of 28 percent last December. That five-point increase in approval again comes primarily from Republicans.

Nearly three-quarters of Republicans approve of the job Bush is doing on the war; nearly half, 48 percent, strongly approve, compared with 36 percent last December. Independents show a similar upward trend in their ratings but overall remain closer to Democrats than to Republicans in their assessment of Bush's performance on the war.

Among independents, approval of the president's war management has grown from 23 percent last December to 34 percent; strong approval has tripled, to 18 percent.

Bush's overall approval rating, at 33 percent, remains at his career low point in Post-ABC polling, with 64 percent disapproving. The percentage of Americans approving of the president has been the same since July and has been under 50 percent for more than 2 1/2 years.

Approval of Congress is up slightly since reaching a 12-year low in Post-ABC polling a month ago. Overall approval stands at 32 percent, with most of the increase caused by a rebound in positive sentiment from liberal Democrats. After the approval rate dropped to 22 percent last month, 42 percent of liberal Democrats now approve of the job Congress is doing.

Asked which party is better on the issue of Iraq, 49 percent said Democrats and 35 percent Republicans. Independents, a crucial swing vote, are more evenly divided, 40 percent for Democrats to 33 percent for Republicans. Nearly two in 10 independents chose neither party on the issue.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone Dec. 6-9 among a random national sample of 1,136 adults. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points. It is larger for subgroups.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company