Polls Show Big Impact from Abuse Photos, Spell
Bad News for Bush
photographs of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers have
had a major impact on public opinion in the United States, according
to back-to-back national polls that also show continued erosion
in support for President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.
poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center for the People
and the Press found that a whopping 76 percent of the public
has seen the photos, while a USA
Today/CNN Gallup poll released Tuesday found that 48 percent
of respondents believe the incidents depicted in the photos represented
a "major setback" to the US mission in Iraq.
that accompanied both polls concluded that the photos appear to
be directly linked to a sharp loss in support for the US occupation.
poll released Tuesday, which was conducted last weekend, found that
54 percent of those interviewed now say going to war was "not
worth it" up from 47 percent just one week ago, as the
photos were first appearing in US media. The latest poll marked
the first time that a majority has come to that conclusion.
nearly half of those polled or 47 percent said they
believe the US should withdraw some or all of its troops from Iraq
a sharp rise of 10 percentage points since mid-March. Fifty-three
percent of Pew respondents said the US should not pull out until
a stable government is established in Baghdad. That was down from
63 percent in January. In addition, the poll found a significant
gender gap on the issue, with a plurality of women favoring withdrawal.
the Pew poll found that public assessments of the war have reached
their lowest levels yet. Only 46 percent describe the war as going
well, the first time less than a majority has felt that the developments
there were going at least "fairly well." Conversely, for
the first time, a majority described the war as going "not
ominously for Bush, 55 percent of self-described political "independents"
that is, potential "swing" voters who will likely
decide the outcome in November's elections chose the "not
well" option, compared to 26 percent of Republicans and 67
percent of Democrats.
surveys show that a majority of all respondents still believe that
the decision to go to war was right, but that majority has shrunk
from highs of nearly 80 percent when US troops entered Baghdad to
record lows of just 54 percent in the Tuesday poll and 51 percent
in the Pew poll.
the latter also suggested that the decline of support in swing constituencies
has been particularly sharp, with only 48 percent of independents
now saying going to war was the correct decision. While key elements
of Bush's political base self-described Republicans and white
evangelical Protestants remain solidly behind the decision
to go to war, support for the decision has dropped by more than
a third among white Catholics and mainline Protestants, according
to the analysis.
poll results come amid considerable speculation about the course
of the election campaign. Democrats have become increasingly concerned
that Bush's standing in the polls has not fallen vis-à-vis
his presumptive Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, despite
the tide of bad news coming out of Iraq.
most polls, the lead in the race has seesawed between the two men
with Kerry, who has maintained a fairly low profile on Iraq since
the prison-abuse scandal first surfaced, seemingly unable to establish
a decisive lead.
two prominent pollsters, Andrew Kohut, who directs the Pew Center,
and John Zogby, who runs his own polling firm, have suggested that
the public is far more focused on Bush than on Kerry, who can be
expected to garner much more attention as the actual election approaches.
a New York Times column Wednesday, Kohut compared the current
race to the 1980 election between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan,
noting that Carter held a significant lead in the polls during the
first six months of the year even as his public-approval ratings
slumped badly. It was not until the summer that Reagan drew even
and then pulled ahead just before the election itself. Similarly,
Bush's father enjoyed a modest lead over Bill Clinton in 1992, despite
the fact that his approval ratings fell sharply as the economic
recession took hold.
the voters' disillusionment with the current President Bush continue,
they will evaluate John Kerry and decide whether he is worth a chance,"
Kohut said, adding that Bush's approval ratings are the most important
barometer at this stage in the race.
also observed that Bush's performance ratings and even his
showing in surveys against Kerry demonstrated significant
weakness for an incumbent compared to relevant antecedents, noting
that only 43 percent believed that Bush deserved to be reelected
as of mid-April, compared to 51 percent who said it was time for
polls also suggest that the intensity among those who want Bush
out is both greater and growing faster than feelings on the pro-Bush
latest Pew poll shows that Kerry currently leads Bush 50 to 45 percent
in a two man-race and by 46 to 43 percent in a three-man race with
confidence in Bush relative to Kerry has eroded significantly on
Iraq and the economy. While the president retains a slight edge
as the candidate better prepared to make wise decisions in Iraq
policy, that was down by 12 percentage points compared to six weeks
ago. At the same time, Kerry now leads Bush by double-digit margins
on the economy and health care.
the other hand, Bush still leads by a significant margin (52-33
percent) on the question of who voters prefer when it comes to defending
the country from terrorism.
has also suffered a significant drop in approval, from 48 percent
in late April to 44 percent now. Some 26 percent of respondents
said their overall impression of Bush has gotten worse over the
past few weeks. Among likely swing voters, Bush's approval rating
also stands at 44 percent, an 11 percent drop compared to February.
more ominous for the Bush camp are overall assessments of where
the country is heading seen by some pollsters as the most critical
variable for incumbents. On that question, public confidence has
fallen to 33 percent, the lowest level in eight years, according
to the Pew poll.
reactions to the photos themselves, the USA Today survey
found that four in five respondents said they were bothered by the
abuse and nearly three in four said there were no circumstances
under which such incidents could be justified. More than 80 percent
said they believe US soldiers have higher standards of conduct than
their counterparts from other nations.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service