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More Voters Perceive Progress in Iraq

As Attitudes About Restoring Order Improve, So Do McCain's Poll Numbers

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By Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 11, 2008; Page A06

The percentage of voters seeing progress in U.S. efforts to restore civil order in Iraq is now higher than it has been in nearly three years, even as Americans still hold broadly negative views about the original decision to go to war.

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The more upbeat public assessments of the current situation helped bolster Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain in the new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Voters polled now trust McCain to handle the situation in Iraq by a 10-point margin over Sen. Barack Obama, his Democratic rival -- the first clear advantage either candidate has had on the question.

In the new poll, 56 percent of registered voters say the United States is making significant strides toward bringing order in Iraq -- the highest proportion to say so in nearly three years and nearly double the level in late 2006, before President Bush ordered additional American troops to the country.

McCain strongly backed Bush's strategy to tamp down violence with extra forces in Baghdad and Anbar province, and he rarely misses an opportunity to contrast his views with Obama's rhetoric at that time. Nor does Obama skip many chances to remind voters of McCain's equally strident support for the president at the war's outset. On that question, public opinion remains firm: Sixty percent of voters polled say the war has not been worth its costs. That has been the majority view for four years.

Most Democrats continue to say significant progress is not being made, but 38 percent now see big improvements, twice the percentage that said so before the "surge." Republicans overwhelmingly see progress, as do 56 percent of independents. By contrast, 60 percent of independents also say the war was, on balance, not worth fighting, close to the average for those voters in Post-ABC polling over the past three years.

Another consequence of more sanguine views of the situation in Iraq and the souring U.S. economy is that Iraq has faded as a top issue in the presidential election. Ten percent in the new poll highlight Iraq as the most important voting issue, with those seeing no real progress there twice as apt to mention it. Nearly four in 10, 37 percent, say economy and jobs are issue No. 1; a year ago at this time, those numbers were basically flipped, with 36 percent calling Iraq tops and 12 percent focused on the economy.

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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