A record number of Americans say winning the war in Iraq is not necessary for the broader U.S. campaign against terrorism to succeed, countering John McCain's view of the conflict and aiding his Democratic opponents' chances in November.
Deep concern about the economy also works for the Democrats, and it's an even more dominant issue; 90 percent say it's in bad shape and nearly eight in 10 don't believe the government's stimulus checks will help. But McCain pushes back strongly enough on other issues to keep the contest a close one, this ABC News/Washington Post poll finds.
All told, six in 10 Americans cite either the economy or the war as the most important issue in their vote for president, and they favor Barack Obama, by 18 points, or Hillary Clinton, by 11, over McCain. Among the remaining four in 10 who cite other issues, however, McCain holds 14- and 23-point leads over Obama and Clinton, respectively.
These divisions underscore the likely strategies of the candidates in the months ahead; no wonder, for example, that McCain gave a major speech on the economy this week, seeking to level the field on that issue.
IRAQ – Of the two, Iraq may be the tougher challenge for McCain: A supporter of the war, he's argued that success there is necessary for the United States' broader interests. But in this poll Americans by a record 2-1 margin, 61-31 percent, say winning in Iraq is not necessary to defeating terrorism more generally. That view's evolved since January 2007, when the public divided evenly on the question.
People who see the war in Iraq as essential to countering terrorism are among McCain's strongest supporters; he leads either Obama or Clinton in this group by more than 3-1. Among the six in 10 with the opposite view, however, he trails by 35 and 23 points, respectively.
That perhaps could turn if basic views of the war change. But they've seemed fixed in cement for more than a year: In this poll, 64 percent of Americans said the war was not worth fighting, almost precisely the average in a dozen ABC/Post polls in the past 14 months. It been a steady majority for nearly 3½ years, and opposition is more intense, with strong opponents of the war outnumbering strong supporters by 2-1.
Despite successes of the surge in U.S. forces, moreover, 57 percent now say the United States is not making significant progress restoring civil order in Iraq, up 6 points from last month. And 56 percent say the United States should withdraw even if civil order is not restored, a number that tipped to a majority in January 2007 and has stayed there ever since. In spring 2004, by contrast, the public, by 2-1, opposed withdrawing in the absence of civil order.
IMPORTANCE – Asked, in an open-ended question, the most important issue in their vote, 41 percent of Americans said the economy, 18 percent the Iraq war, with the remaining four in 10 dispersed among a range of answers. That marks dramatic growth in concern about the economy, and a concomitant decline for Iraq, since last fall.
As noted, Obama and Clinton both lead McCain among voters focused on the economy or the war; McCain leads among others.