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Latest Poll: More Than 2/3 Think War On Iraq NOT Justified (english)
18 Dec 2002
"Despite a concerted effort by the Bush administration, more than two-thirds of Americans believe the president has failed to make the case that a war with Iraq is justified, according to a Los Angeles Times poll."
Poll: Most unconvinced on Iraq war
Two-thirds believe Bush has failed to make case an attack is justified; Many think weapons are there, but want proof
By Maura Reynolds
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
December 17, 2002
WASHINGTON -- Despite a concerted effort by the Bush administration, more than
two-thirds of Americans believe the president has failed to make the case that a war with
Iraq is justified, according to a Los Angeles Times poll.
The overwhelming majority of respondents — 90 percent — said they do not doubt that
Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction. But in the absence of new evidence from
U.N. inspectors, 72 percent of respondents, including 60 percent of Republicans, said the
president has not provided enough evidence to justify starting a war with Iraq.
The results underscore the importance of the outcome of U.N. arms inspections underway
in Iraq if the Bush administration expects to gain clear public support for an attack.
"I'm not against [war] if it is necessary," said 59-year-old Kramer Smith, a preacher,
carpenter and registered Republican from Bloomfield, Iowa, one of a number of
respondents who explained their views in follow-up interviews. "But I think we need to
be pretty sure before we start pulling in the big guns. If they could put their hands on
evidence of real production of weapons of mass destruction, then I would say go ahead
and do it."
The poll also found that support for a possible war appears to be weakening, with 58
percent saying they support a ground attack on Iraq. In an August Times poll, 64 percent
said they would support a ground attack. Last January, after President Bush first
denounced Saddam Hussein in his State of the Union address, the Times and other polls
found support for military action greater than 70 percent.
"Still, almost three-quarters of Americans approve of the way George W. Bush is
handling the threat of terrorism in the country, and nearly three out of five also approve of
his handling of the country's affairs," said Susan Pinkus, who directed the Times poll.
Traditionally, support is low before a president declares war, but increases after troops are
in the field.
"If he actually does go to war, I suspect people will swing behind him as they did in the
Gulf War," said John Mueller, an expert on war and public opinion at Ohio State
University. "But right now, there isn't all that much enthusiasm for the war."
That lack of support may stem from the impression that the president has failed to present
enough hard evidence to prove that Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction and is
prepared to use them. The administration has spent much of the last three months trying
to build a case for war — internationally at the United Nations, and domestically during
the president's frenetic campaigning in advance of midterm elections last month.
"How come they can show satellite photos of nuclear sites in Iran but they can't find the
same in Iraq?" asked Nancy Carolan, 52, a jewelry artist on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
"I don't think they're justified, but they are just going to do it anyway."
The poll also indicates that Americans do not agree with the president's argument that any
error or omission in the arms declaration Iraq sent to the United Nations earlier this
month is adequate to justify war.
Instead, 63 percent of respondents said war would be justified only if the United Nations
finds a pattern of serious violations by Iraq. Just 22 percent agreed with the
administration's position; 6 percent said it would depend on the nature of the omissions;
and 9 percent said they were not sure or declined to reply.
Almost six in 10 say it is unlikely that the U.N. inspectors will find Iraqi weapons of mass
"I don't doubt that they do" have weapons of mass destruction, said respondent Victoria
Ellison, 57, a Democrat from Burbank. "But I want to see proof."
If U.N. inspections fail to turn up evidence of Iraqi weapons programs, almost half of
respondents said they would oppose war. Only 41 percent would favor war, and 10
percent said they don't know whether they would favor or oppose.
The Times poll also suggests Americans are more informed about the possibility of war
with Iraq, with 84 percent saying they are following the news closely — up from 76
percent in August. Sixty-three percent of respondents in the recent poll said they feel war
is inevitable, 27 percent said war may or may not occur, and 4 percent said they believed
war would not occur.
Respondents also expressed concern that the president may not be getting balanced
information from his advisors. Fifty-one percent of respondents said they believe Bush's
advisors favor going to war; 20 percent said the advisors present a balanced view; and 11
percent said the advisors are opposed to war. Roughly a fifth said they are not sure
whether Bush's advisors favor or oppose war.
If the United States should launch an attack, 68 percent of Americans want it to be only
with the support of the international community. Only 26 percent said they were willing
to support war if the United States acted alone.
"I am not opposed to doing something, but it would have to be in the right
circumstances," said Geoff George, a 20-year-old independent from Albany, Ore. "I
would probably be a little more supportive if the U.N. and the rest of the world united and
we all decided to do it together. But [if we act] as one nation, I don't think there would
ever be enough evidence for me."
However, at least theoretically, Americans agree with the administration's argument that
sometimes preemptive or preventive war is justified. Sixty-four percent of respondents,
including 49 percent of Democrats, believe the United States should reserve the right to
launch a preemptive attack against regimes that threaten the country. Only 25 percent said
they opposed such a policy, and 11 percent said they did not have an opinion on the issue.
If the United States does go to war, the decision is likely to have serious ramifications at
home and abroad, respondents said. Sixty-seven percent said war is likely to increase the
threat of terrorist attacks in the United States; 51 percent said they feel it would
destabilize the Middle East; and 45 percent said it will have a negative effect on the U.S.
They are also concerned about the possibility of military casualties. Of those who initially
said they support a ground attack against Iraq, 18 percent said they would do so only if no
American soldiers are killed. However, support falls off gradually as the theoretical death
toll is raised, but 29 percent said they would support war no matter what the cost in
Finally, in the wake of a war, the vast majority of Americans — 70 percent, according to
the poll — feel the country has an obligation to stay and rebuild Iraq.
The Times poll was conducted Dec. 12 to 15 and interviewed 1,305 adults nationwide.
Margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.