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Poll: Americans Trust Democrats in Iraq
By Brian Braiker
January 20, 2007

Jan. 20, 2007 - When President George W. Bush declared earlier this month that the only way to quell sectarian violence in Iraq was to send more than 20,000 additional American troops, he probably knew the move would be unpopular. Indeed, the latest NEWSWEEK poll finds that Bush's call for a "surge" in troops is opposed by two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans and supported by only a quarter (26 percent). Almost half of all respondents (46 percent) want to see American troops pulled out "as soon as possible."

Bush's Iraq plan isn't doing anything for his personal approval rating either; it's again stuck at its lowest point in the history of the poll (31 percent). Meanwhile, the new Democratic-controlled Congress is getting relatively high marks. And 55 percent actually trust Congressional Dems on U.S. policy in Iraq, far more than the 32 percent who trust their commander in chief.

While Democrats and Republicans have roundly criticized Bush's proposal, the president—who received his lowest ratings so far for his handling of the war (24 percent) and terrorism (41 percent)—told a group of U.S. television stations this week that "I believe it will work." He is in the minority. Nearly half of all respondents to the NEWSWEEK poll (45 percent) say they "strongly oppose" the plan. Nine in 10 Democrats (92 percent), 70 percent of independents and close to a third (31 percent) of Republicans disapprove.

Specifically, majorities of respondents expressed doubt that the proposal will reduce violence in Baghdad (53 percent) or buy enough time for sectarian groups to hammer out a settlement (59 percent). In fact, more than two-thirds (67 percent) think it is either "very" or "somewhat" likely to lead to more U.S. casualties in Iraq without getting the U.S. closer to its goals there. Still, almost half (45 percent) don't want to see the United States beat too hasty a retreat. They prefer to maintain troop levels in Iraq for "at least another year or two" to give the Iraqis more time to settle their differences and reach a political settlement, even though only 27 percent of those polled are "very or somewhat" confident that Iraqis would be able to control the violence and provide their own security. Two-thirds (67 percent) of those interviewed think that the United States is losing ground in its efforts to establish security and democracy in Iraq and only 23 percent favor additional troops at this time.

There is still more bad news for the president in the poll: Sixty-two percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country. For the first time, more than half of the respondents (53 percent) disapprove of his approach to deterring terrorism. More than half of the public thinks he is not "honest and ethical" (54 percent) and lacks "strong leadership qualities" (57 percent). Just before the last election, 55 percent said Bush was honest and 63 percent saw him as a strong leader.

As Bush's public image continues to tarnish, the new Democratic congress appears to have made a good first impression. Respondents give House Speaker Nancy Pelosi largely favorable (36 percent to 23 percent) ratings and also agree by a nearly two-to-one margin (43 percent to 24 percent) that the Democrats are keeping promises they made during their campaigns. Still, the Dems remain an unknown quantity to many voters. Nearly a third (32 percent) said they "didn't know" if they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion about Pelosi. And while the public trusts Democrats more than Bush on Iraq policy, the NEWSWEEK poll found a 46-46 split on whether or not the Congress should try to block the additional funding Bush needs to pay for more troops in Iraq.

With Democrats in apparent ascendance in Washington, it is perhaps worth noting that many respondents would actually be willing to accept something other than a pro-Western, democratic government in Iraq—as long as the chaos there were stabilized. Nearly half (45 percent) would even accept an Islamic government ruling Iraq. Slightly more (48 percent) would accept a division of the country into independent Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions to put an end to civil war. Only a very small minority (10 percent) would find it acceptable to leave the country in the hands of another despotic leader in the mold of Saddam Hussein.

Looking forward to 2008, a generic Democratic presidential candidate has a 21-point lead over an unnamed GOP challenger. The race becomes much closer, however, when voters are asked to choose among actual names. The new poll finds statistical dead heats in different scenarios involving John McCain or Rudy Giuliani vs. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards. In a hypothetical match-up, Clinton gets 48 percent while McCain gets 47. A Giuliani-Clinton race finds the same numbers but with the former New York City mayor as the hypothetical victor.

The NEWSWEEK poll, conducted Wednesday, Jan. 17, through Thursday, Jan. 18, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. In conducting the poll, Princeton Survey Research Associates International interviewed 1,003 adults aged 18 and older.
© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.

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