Public support for the U.S. military occupation of Iraq has dwindled significantly in recent months even as the fledgling government in Baghdad achieves important milestones toward democratic rule.
The public is now evenly divided over whether to begin an immediate troop withdrawal before the Iraqi government is stable, according to a survey of 1,005 adult residents of the United States conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University.
The poll asked: “Should the United States begin pulling its troops out of Iraq as soon as possible, or should we stay for at least a few years until the new government in Iraq is secure?” Forty-eight percent said they want a rapid withdrawal, 46 percent favored staying until Iraq is more secure and 6 percent were undecided.
A similar poll conducted by the Scripps center in July found that only 34 percent then supported immediate withdrawal while 56 percent were committed to a longer stay.
The news in the last three months has been mixed, with Iraqis going to the polls last week for an historic vote on a new constitution. But insurgents have maintained relentless attacks against Iraqi police and U.S. forces. Total casualties for American military personnel are approaching 2,000.
The poll found that men were much more likely to support a longer commitment in Iraq than are women. A slight majority of men (51 percent) want the U.S. commitment continued until Iraq is secure, while the same percentage of women supported immediate withdrawal.
Younger Americans by nearly a 2-1 margin want rapid withdrawal while adults 65 and older were the most likely age group to support a lengthy military commitment. Black adults oppose the war by more than a 3-1 margin while non-Hispanic whites support it by a narrow margin.
The only group in the survey that solidly supports further military involvement are those who described themselves as strong Republicans, opposing rapid withdrawal by more than 3 to 1.
The dwindling support for the Iraqi occupation comes at a time when Americans are losing confidence in President Bush’s leadership, highly interconnected trends, according to the survey. Only 38 percent said they approve of the job Bush has done as president, 57 percent disapprove and 5 percent are undecided.
The dwindling support for the war also reflects a change in priorities for Americans beset by domestic problems like hurricane disaster relief, skyrocketing energy prices and fears that the economy may soon sour again. Only a quarter of Americans in the poll said they think “the war on terrorism” or “peace in the Middle East” are the nation’s top priority, down from a third who said this three months ago.
Fear of an economy slump once again is the nation’s top concern, although worries about the quality of education or health care are also growing.
The survey was conducted by telephone from Oct. 9-23 at the Scripps Center in a project sponsored by Scripps Howard News Service and the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.
Both this survey and the data from the survey of 1,016 adults conducted in mid July have a margin of error of plus 4 percentage points.
(Thomas Hargrove is a reporter for Scripps Howard News Service. Guido H. Stempel III is the director of the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University.)