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Pew Research Center
War in Iraq Special Report
War in Iraq Discussion Transcripts
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War in Iraq:
World Opinion

With Andrew Kohut
Pew Research Center For The People and the The Press Director

Monday, April 7, 2003; 11 a.m. ET

How does Europe view the U.S.-led war in Iraq? Is American support for Bush and his policies growing since the start of the war? What does the rest of the world think of the U.S.?

Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center For The People and The Press, was online to discuss public confidence in the war and the image of the U.S. abroad.

A 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.

Minneapolis, Minn.: Hi, Mr. Kohut --

I have two question about the daily polls you've been doing about the war in Iraq. Do you use a new sample of respondents for each poll? What kind of resources does it take to conduct a daily poll of this scope?

Andrew Kohut: Good question - we have a contingent of trained interviewers contacting a new sample of the public each night - those who cannot be reached on the first night are rolled over to the next night's interviewing - to get people who are not at home on the first night. Same for people who are in the middle of things and can't talk when we call.

Washington, D.C.: Dear Mr. Kohut,
I heard on the radio that fully 3/4 of Americans support the war in Iraq and that about half will support it even in no WMDs are found (though, as I understand it, that was the justification for this conflict in the first place). How is it that I have met almost none of these supporters? I am an urban professional in a conservative city (D.C.), but most people I know are against the war and are worried about the blind patriotism that the government seems to want to push on Americans. We are not radical liberals, just ordinary 20- to 40-somethings in a professional workplace. Can you explain where all they YES-sayers are? Why have I encountered so few of them? Are people being honest in the surveys or are the questions a bit leading?
Thanks for your reply!

Andrew Kohut: There is majority support for the decision to go to war but it is not uniform across demo groups -- well educated people, Democrats, non-whites far less likely to support the war so your contacts may reflect this patterning.

Alexandria, Va.: In which countries do the populations tend to support the coalition action against Iraq? I have read that pluralities in the UK, Kuwait and Israel support the war.

Andrew Kohut: Certainly Israel -- not sure about Kuwait. Elsewhere in ME hostility toward this war is very great -- seen as picking on Muslim country not as a war to liberate Iraqi people and stabilize the region.

US will have to demonstrate positive consequences to mend fences with publics there.

Southington Ct: Considering the extent of brutality imposed over the years by the Iraqi regime upon their own citizens, some European leaders appear totally insensitive to this history when they protest coalition actions against the Iraqi regime. Are they really this apathetic? What will it take for them to become concerned for humanity and the world at large?

Andrew Kohut: Europeans agree with our aims of getting rid of regime -- but they disagree with what they term a unilateral approach and the priority US has given to this.

Most think US obsessed with Iraq and ignoring the majority of the UN SC opposed to action was wrong thing to do.

Parsippany, New Jersey: How is it that the invasion of Iraq can be expected to produce any positive repercussions when it is clear that anti American sentiment is raging exponentially upwards to unprecedented levels with news of every new civilian casualty in Iraq?

As an expert, do you really believe the neoconservative right wing vision of America as a liberator of oppressed people will win over the perception of America as the new brutal imperialistic power that lets no one stand in its way towards global hegemony?


Andrew Kohut: A lot of world reaction particulaly in the ME -- will depend on how this turns out -- are the Iraqi people better off, do we find WMD. But even if all turns out well, the US will have to make the case to the rest of the world that it cares about the points of view of allied nations and is willing to work multilaterally on global probs.

Alexandria, Va.: Based on Pew Foundation Polling of the War in Iraq, are most anti-war respondents (If asked today) against the war for fear the Bush administration will move on other parts of the Middle East? Or it is simply a combination of anti-war period and anti-Bush sentiment added into one package.

Andrew Kohut: I do not think that anitiBritish views are driving anti war sentiment.

I think drivers are: (in no particular order)- general pacifisms, discontent with perceived unilateralist, beliefs that US has been too focused on Iraq, worries about what this will do to our image in the ME and around the world, concern for US and Iraqi civilian casualties.

Arlington, Va.: Five years ago, without U.N. Security Council approval, the U.S. (with token assistance from Europe) removed Milosevic from power, and stopped the unchallenged murder of several hundred thousand Muslims. There was no oil, there was no Israel, there was no vital U.S. national interest. We acted because it was the right thing to do. We acted similarly in Somalia.

Given recent history, why are so few Europeans willing to give us the benefit of the doubt with regard to our motivations in Iraq?

Has their inability to deal with such international problems made them delusional?

Andrew Kohut: One element is that suspicion and resentment of US power has grown substantially over the years as the cold war fades- also Europeans distrust this administration very much.

Columbus, Ohio: Is it any surprise that well educated people tend to be against the war?

Andrew Kohut: It is different than in the past -- not the case during the Gulf war and the Balkan interventions. We are looking for the why's now.

Boston, Mass.: I do not feel public opinion of most people is reflected in the polls regarding Iraq because of the complexity of the issue(s). To ask "Do you support the United States War against Iraq?" is often asked and can't be answered with a simple yes or no. How do pollsters reflect the true sentiment of the American people on such a complex subject? Do you get the sense that there are a large percentage of people who will not voice an anti-administration opinion with troops in harms way?

Andrew Kohut: We ask a lot of questions -- not only do you approve -- but was it right thing to do or wrong -- why do you think so -- because Pres said so, or because it was best thing to do, how's the war going, how will it end up, plus each national poll has its own question approaches and they come you with remarkably similar answers.

Cherry Hill, N.J.: Looking at a recent LA Times Poll, 70 percent polled say that the U.S. has the moral authority to invade Iraq. Based on this polling, does it matter what Europe or the rest of the world thinks?

Andrew Kohut: In an interconnected, globalized world, the US image -- how we are regarded by ordinary people -- world leaders -- alike is very important in the end. The US will have to demonstrate that it was right to do this to win back lost friends.

Laurel, Md.: How much of the support for war is predicated on the idea that Iraq is somehow behind September 11 or Al Quaeda?

Andrew Kohut: Many Americans think that Iraq helped 9-11 terrorists and even more believe they give comfort and aid to terrorists who want to do us harm.

But more importantly -- our polls found that the biggest determinant of support for the war before it began, was whether or not taking on Iraq was seen as part of the war on terrorism.

Washington, D.C.: Like the previous poster, I, too, have a hard time finding gung-ho supporters of the war with Iraq. Can you give an exact example of the types of questions you ask poll respondents? Do you ever measure the level of support (eg, strongly support, moderately support), and then compare this versus the level of opposition (eg, strongly oppose)? Do you ever ask respondents questions re: their general level of knowlege of world politics, the Middle East, etc.?

Andrew Kohut: We do all of these things -- go to our site and look at the questions and the many in depth polls that we have done- - particularly those we have dome with the Council on Foreign Relations.


Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C.: It has been surprising to me to notice that public support for the war fluctuates greatly depending on the perception of how the war is going. Do people view American military supremacy as something that legitimizes the attack on Iraq?

Andrew Kohut: Actually, public support for the war HAS NOT changed with the up and down appraisals of how well the war seemed to be going - 70 percent when 65 percent thought war was going very well and also when that fell to 38 percent.

Washington, D.C.: Mr. Kohut,
Like one of your previous posters, I too live and work in Washington, D.C. However, although I'm an exception, almost everyone at my place of work is pro-war. I know my company is more conservative, but we are also a very well-educated group. I continue to be astounded at how much public opinion is divided along groupings; people who belong to one school of thought really tend to judge the public by their own social groups and this largely skews their perception of the other. If you don't believe me, try asking several people you would normally never talk with, on the street or in an airport or any other random enough locale. I've tried this and had results that really surprised me at first. I've found out that the average person thinks very differently from those I am friends with or even associate with. Most of my friends are anti-war and they too wonder where all the pro-war people are. Although I sincerely agree with their opinions and ideology regarding the war, I think we've got to acknowledge the extent to which this effect occurs: that public opinion varies across so many factors and that estimating it through the views of our personal acquaintances is an extremely inaccurate method. Only if we do so will we realize that there are large populations out there who get totally different things out of the evening news than we do, and maybe who believe what they are told much more readily. And until we admit this to ourselves, we won't be able to have the kind of discussion that's obviously necessary, and to undertake the task of "enlightening" these people of our opinions, whatever they may be.

I just want to thank you and your organization for presenting the kind of polls that you do, because I think they are a real reality check for many of us. While I'm here wondering where all the pro-war people are, there are probably many others elsewhere wondering the same thing about all the anti-war numbers.

Andrew Kohut: Well, polls attempt to collect and collate all points of view. In this case there has been such uneven support and varied responses, that it is important to reflect all voices.

In that regard, last fall we found that anti-war people were more vocal in their opposition than pro war people in their support.

I suspect that is still true.

Dryden, N.Y.: Have there been any surveys that break down war support by gender?

Andrew Kohut: Yes -- there is less support among women than men -- but for much of the time the gender gap has been smaller than in the past. This is a post 9-11 effect.

See our survey reports at www.people-press.org

Washington, D.C.: If 75 percent of Americans support the war and about 50 percent voted for Bush, that means that half of Gore voters/Democrats support the war, right? And, if so, is there any pattern amongst this even split?

Andrew Kohut: Good arithmetic. Most Democrats do support the war -- but there is a split in the party with liberal D's opposing and conservative/moderate's favoring -- but at much lower levels than R's.

Magnolia Springs, Ala.: What part of any polling sample will be brought along by the herd factor, i.e., by the tendency, especially in uncertain times, to express faith in, and display loyalty to those whom society clothes with authority?

Andrew Kohut: I would term this a little differently -- support for the war rose from 59 percent to 70 percent when the war began. The boost includes many people who want to express support for our forces in the field -- some is going along as you describe it, but the lion's share 59/70 was there before the war began.

Boston, Mass.: The President's approval ratings took a jump with the start of the war. Has that had a positive impact on his domestic ratings as well?

Andrew Kohut: Just a small one so far. When the war is over the public focus will turn to domestic issues which may prove more difficult for the administration.

San Rafael, Calif.: There are many in this country who say it doesn't matter what anyone else in the world thinks of our policies and actions since ours is a superior culture and economy. It is up to us to defend the "American way of life."

If this is the perception, what does the future hold for our country as the policeman of the world?

Andrew Kohut: I don't think that the American people feel that US culture and point of view is superior. Most Americans have thought of the US as well regarded, but under-appreciated -- the former view will no doubt be changing as the antagonism toward the US begins to sink in.

Logan Circle, Washington D.C.: How do other countries feel about Powell's diplomatic skills? No one I know supports the war. I wonder if D.C. is left out of these polls on purpose.

Andrew Kohut: I am not sure how Colin Powell is regarded -- I would think that his popularity here is to some extent apparent abroad.

DC is not excluded from our national samples.

Andrew Kohut: Thank you very much -- I have enjoyed answering your questions. Again go to www.people-press.org to see our reports.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company