A majority of Americans would rather have the United States give in to terrorist demands than see further harm come to the victims of the hijacking of TWA Flight 847, according to the first returns of a Washington Post-ABC News public opinion poll.
Fifty-eight percent, almost 6 in 10 of the people interviewed, said the United States should negotiate and accede to Lebanese Shiite terrorist demands if the alternative is further injury to or murder of the more than 40 American men still being held. Thirty-four percent said the United States should not negotiate, even under such circumstances.
At the same time, a majority of the public rejects the idea that the United States is helpless against terrorism and endorses the use of force against Mideast nations that are found to be aiding terrorists who prey on Americans.
These findings were gathered in interviews with 508 people Monday evening, in the first night of a poll on sentiment about the hijacking, which began Friday. Although relatively small, the sample is large enough to offer a rough gauge of opinion as events unfold.
The poll also found a degree of public impatience or dissatisfaction with the response of the Israeli government to the hijacking. The chief terrorist demand has been that Israel release between 700 and 800 Lebanese Shiites it is holding captive. The U.S. government has said it will not ask Israel to release them, on grounds that to do so would be to give in to the terrorists.
In the poll, 41 percent said the United States should ask Israel to release its captives; 48 percent said it should not. But by 60 to 27 percent, the people interviewed said Israel should release the Shiites without any American request, if that would ensure release of the TWA hostages.
Asked whether Israel has "done what it should to help resolve the hostage situation," 50 percent said it has not, 25 percent said it has, and 25 percent expressed no opinion.
The survey also asked people whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement that "the United States should reduce its ties to Israel in order to lessen the acts of terrorism against us in the Middle East." Thirty-two percent said they agreed, 54 percent disagreed, and 14 percent offered no opinion.
The poll shows displeasure with U.S. policy toward terrorists preceding this hijacking. By almost 2 to 1, 61 percent to 32 percent, the people interviewed disagreed with the proposition that "there is nothing the U.S. can do to prevent such acts of terrorism." And a sizable minority, 40 percent, agreed with a statement that "the United States is largely to blame for this hijacking because it has not dealt firmly enough with terrorists in the past." Fifty-one percent disagreed, and 9 percent expressed no opinion.