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Confronting Iraq Special Report
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Poll: War with Iraq
With Richard Morin & Claudia Deane
Washington Post Polling Staff

Tuesday, March 4, 2003; 2 p.m. ET

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll completed Sunday suggests that while 59 percent of Americans favor using military force against Iraq, even without the support of the U.N. Security Council, more than six in 10 Americans harbor at least some doubts about the use force and only a third are unequivocally behind going to war.

Washington Post polling director Richard Morin and assistant polling director Claudia Deane discussed the newest poll and America's view of war with Iraq.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: Thanks for joining us. We look forward to answering your questions.

Mexico City, Mexico: Would you say that the number of those opposed to removing Hussein today is similar to the number of those opposed to removing Hitler in 1938? It seems as though there is always a large percentage of the population who don't see the seriousness of a threat until its too late.

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: Most Americans think Saddam should go, but the question is when and by what means. The tricky debate is over military force vs. negotiations/weapons inspections, and how much allied support we should have before we go.

Arlington, Va.: How has support for a U.S. led war with Iraq changed over the past months?

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: Support has moved up and down a bit, but has not fundamentally changed. About six in ten Americans favor taking military action, though the proportion drops to about half if the United Nations does not endorse the action.

Manassas, Va.: Good afternoon:

I believe that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world and love all it stands for: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I'm totally in favor of a strong military, free markets and limited government; however, I still am doubtful of supporting the President with the Iraq issue. Where do I stand compared with the overall opinion of the population?

Thanks for taking my question.

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: You have company.
Our latest survey found that about one in four Americans support the war but with serious reservations and nearly four in ten flat out oppose it. Only a third have no reservations about taking military action.

Harrisburg, Pa.: Isn't it interesting that so many politicians have doubts about war with Iraq, yet they are fearful of expressing their doubts too strongly over fears of public reprisals, even though so much of the public has similar doubts? When will our politicians courageously at least catch up to the public sentiment?

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: Republican politicians are leading a party that is very unified on the war -- about nine in ten Republicans support an invasion of Iraq, even without the support of the U.N.
It's Democratic leaders who are in a box. Most Democrats currently oppose the war.
It has been interesting to see the increased partisanship on war in recent months. Majorities of both parties as late as six weeks ago supported taking military action to topple Saddam Hussein.

California: What surprised you about your data?

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: We have been surprised to see that it's older Americans rather than younger adults that have been most reluctant to back war with Iraq. While younger people swell the ranks of demonstrators, those 65 and over were the least likely to support an invasion. Experts tell us this was the case during Vietnam as well. War in Afghanistan was an exception though -- support was strong across all age groups.

Athens, Ga.: Has there been any survey inquiring what US citizens would be willing to pay to get rid of Saddam Hussein? What about willingness to pay for continued invasion-backed inspections? Any distinctions between willingness to pay in terms of money, American lives, allied lives, Iraqi lives?

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: We haven't seen anything on what it would take to buy our way out of war. But on your last question, we've talked to experts on this topic and their take is that American public opinion would be most affected by the loss of American civilian lives, U.S. troop casualties, Iraqi civilian casualties and then Iraqi troop casualties, in that order. It's a creepy calculus, but it's likely no different in other countries.

Toledo, Spain: How many percent of Americans favor 12 more years of inspections? Didn't WWII prove the the use of force can solve problems?

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: We haven't asked that. We do know that the public is divided whether to take action soon but without international support as opposed to waiting for more countries to back us. From the very beginning, Americans do not want to go it alone in Iraq.

Somewhere, USA: Can you explain why the Post and ABC regularly share poll data? Is this a cost issue or just a way to make the most impact with the information?

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: Yes and yes. Polls are very expensive--in the neighborhood of $50,000 for a large sample, rigorously done telephone survey. That's why the major news organizations are joined in marriages of convenience to split the costs. We also don't mind having our product and name mentioned on national television, as our ABC partners don't mind seeing their name in Washington Post stories.

Providence, R.I.: Regarding Polls. I question the utility of using the results of polls sampled from a largely uninformed public. As a scientist this seems like second nature to me, but I rarely hear discussion of this issue.

What would you have to say about this?
What would you say to polls containing some simple questions about facts mixed in with opinions?

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: It's a problem well-known to pollsters. But you don't have to pass a test to vote or to have a strong opinion on Iraq. We're also constantly surprised how informed people are on big issues, like war and peace.

Washington, D.C.: To what do you attribute the apparent disconnect between elites and regular folks in this country on Iraq. It seems regular folks are more cautious than the elected officials on the use of force.

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: The public typically is more cautious than leaders on a variety of issues, but particularly on war. They need to be convinced that the loss of life is necessary. What we are now seeing is the Bush Administration attempting to convince the country about the need to go to war.

Athens, Ga.: Sorry for the confusion, but I didn't intend to ask about buying our way out of a war. I meant to ask whether the American public's support for the war was influenced by the cost of the war and, if so, what is the greatest cost Americans would be willing to accept to prosecute the war (and the occupation)? Is there a political reason the administration won't even give a lowball estimate of projected costs?

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane:
We recently asked if people would be willing to spend $15 billion and keep 50,000 troops in Iraq for five years to rebuild Iraq. Nearly six in 10--56 percent--said no. That's the next challenge for the Bush Administration--selling nation-building in Iraq to an initially skeptical public. By the way, those estimates are the best available on post-war costs.

Syracuse, N.Y.: Do you get any sense from your poll data that Americans have any specific unease about prosecuting this war with the Bush Administration in charge? My sense is that when some people say they'd prefer to back inspections and "wait," there's a sense that they don't trust this Administration with the war, not because they necessarily trust Saddam Hussein to comply with inspections and U.N. resolutions.

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: In our most recent survey, we asked those who opposed the war or supported it with reservation what their biggest concerns were. The top answer was the need for U.N. support, mentioned by 18 percent. Eight percent said they didn't trust Bush or the government to prosecute the war.

Washington, D.C.: Does the poll really matter?

Even if the majority of Americans were against the war, Bush seems determined not to pay heed to the 'focus group.'

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: Our answer is, yes--at least a little. Not because our poll matters, but that public opinion matters. The administration needs the support of the public to wage this war--and they ignore the voice of the people at their considerable peril.

Arlington, Va.: In all of my 35 years I have NEVER been called about a national poll, nor has anyone else I know. I have a post-graduate degree, own a house, a car and a computer, so I'm not living in a cabin with no contact with the outside world, you can find me if you want to. So why should we even believe that any poll results we hear about are accurate?

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: Claudia says she wasn't called until last year, and she's 36. So maybe this is your lucky year! Seriously, about half the country has been interviewed for a survey at one time or another. So stay by the phone--your time may be coming.

Arlington, Va.: I have heard that with the rise of caller ID and a growing impatience with unsolicited telemarketing phone polls are becoming harder. Have you found this to be the case? If so, how does this affect your sample?

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: That's a real problem. Another is the use of cell phones instead of land lines. Academics and other survey researchers are watching these trends carefully. So far it is not a big problem, with the key words being 'so far".

South Berwick, Maine: In polling regarding the Iraq issue, have you or anyone else asked the poller if they knew what America's primary purpose for attacking Iraq is? I would be interested in knowing how many believe the war would be to disarm Iraq, force a regime change, control their oil, prevent terrorism, or unsure?

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: As it happens, we've asked this question in a poll conducted in late January. Three out of four Americans believe a major reason why we're planning to go to war with Iraq to protect the United States from Iraqi and terrorist threats. Slightly fewer than half--45 percent--said preserving access to Mideast oil was a major reason.

Alexandria, Va.: Why should we believe your numbers? How would you instruct a lay person to read poll results -- yours and others?

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: We would say read any survey results with caution. Surveys by major media organizations are typically well done--mainly because the cost in terms of credibility is so high if you get it wrong. We also suggest looking at several polls that have asked roughly the same question--if the results are similar, then you can have more confidence in the finding.

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: Thank you for your good questions and have a great rest of the day!

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