A skeptical public expects little of this week's developments on Iraq: More than half of Americans think the Petraeus report will try to sugar-coat the real situation there, and two-thirds don't believe it will influence George W. Bush's war policy anyway.
Fifty-three percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll think Gen. David Petraeus' progress report on the "surge" of U.S. troops will try to make things look better than they really are; fewer, 39 percent, expect it to honestly reflect the situation in Iraq.
But in the public's eyes, it's not likely to matter in any case: Just 28 percent think Bush -- long seen as inflexible on the war -- will use the report to adjust his Iraq policy. Sixty-six percent think he'll stick with his war policy no matter what the Petraeus report says.
That policy remains broadly unpopular. Fewer than three in 10 think the surge has improved the situation in Iraq; 60 percent say the United States is not making significant progress toward the ultimate goal of restoring civil order there; and in a bottom-line measure, given its costs vs. benefits, 62 percent say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting. A majority has held that view steadily for more than two and a half years.
Americans, by nearly 2-1, disapprove of Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq, 65 percent to 34 percent -- around where it's been for most of the last year and a half. His broader job approval rating is almost identical: Just 33 percent approve of his work in office overall, matching his career low. He hasn't seen majority approval in an ABC/Post poll since January 2005.
Bush's approval rating among political independents -- the center of American politics -- is at a career low, 25 percent. He's also at 25 percent approval among people who describe themselves as ideological moderates, matching his low in that group.
There are a few better results for the administration. Forty-three percent think the surge will improve security over the next few months, up nine points from July. (Nonetheless, 54 percent think it won't improve security.) And while 43 percent think the United States will lose the war in Iraq, that's down from 51 percent in April. (Thirty-nine percent think the United States will win the war.)
The problems are not all about Bush's policy. Americans by a broad margin, 65-34 percent, also say they're not confident in the Iraqi government's ability to meet its commitments in the effort to restore civil order there. The lack of political consensus in Baghdad has been one of the administration's own complaints.
Given these concerns, 58 percent of Americans favor a decrease in the deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq (a new high, albeit by an insignificant two points over its July level); nearly all of them say a drawdown should start this year. Moreover, 55 percent (the same as in July) favor legislation that would set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq by next spring.
There's little public acceptance of two of the chief arguments against withdrawal -- that leaving Iraq in its current state would make the United States more vulnerable, and indeed that victory in Iraq is necessary for victory in the broader U.S. war on terrorism.
Just 22 percent of Americans say withdrawing from Iraq would increase the risk of terrorism occurring in the United States. Half as many say the opposite -- that remaining in Iraq increases the risk -- while most by far, 65 percent, think the risk of an attack is about the same either way.
Further, while 37 percent believe the United States must win the war in Iraq in order for the broader war on terrorism to be a success, more, 54 percent, think the war on terror can succeed without victory in Iraq. (In another result, a minority, 44 percent, think the war in Iraq has contributed to long-term U.S. security; 52 percent think it has not.)
Most of these results have been quite stable over recent time, suggesting that U.S. public opinion on the war is in a settled state. That makes it hard to move, barring significant developments on the ground.
Negative views on the war carry political implications for the 2008 presidential election. Asked, open-ended, the single most important issue in their vote, 35 percent of Americans say it's the war -- far ahead of health care, 13 percent, and the economy, 11 percent, with all other mentions in the single digits.
And the war is an issue on which Democrats have an advantage: Asked which political party they trust more to handle the situation in Iraq, 42 percent cite the Democrats, to 31 percent -- a new low since 2002 -- for the Republicans. There is room to move, however: Nineteen percent -- a new high -- say they don't trust either party to do a better job on Iraq. That's where the candidates' attempts at persuasion begin.
In another threat to the Republicans, the Democrats also run competitively with them in trust to handle the U.S. campaign against terrorism -- 39 percent prefer the Democrats, 36 percent, the Republicans. Handling terrorism has been Bush's cornerstone issue, the one he rode to re-election in 2004. Yet today fewer than half the public, 46 percent, approves of how he's handling it.
Bush -- and his party after him -- also must contend with the intensity of public sentiment. Not only do 64 percent of Americans disapprove of his job performance overall, but 49 percent disapprove strongly -- far outnumbering the 16 percent who strongly approve. Fifty-three percent strongly disapprove of his work specifically on Iraq; even on terrorism, strong disapprovers outnumber strong approvers. And 51 percent strongly feel the war was not worth fighting, more than double the number who strongly back the war.
Political partisanship remains a defining characteristic of views on the war, with independents continuing to come down on the negative side. While 69 percent of Democrats think the Petraeus report will paint an unrealistically rosy picture, so do 56 percent of independents. Two-thirds of Republicans, by contrast, think Petraeus will honestly assess the situation.
On related issues, about half of Republicans think the surge has made the situation in Iraq better, two-thirds say the U.S. is making significant progress restoring civil order and 72 percent think the war was worth fighting. Far fewer Democrats or independents agree.
Comparisons to the preparedness before Sept. 11, 2001, remain Bush's, and his party's, best pushback. Sixty percent of Americans say the country is safer than it was before 9/11, the most since January 2006.
A majority, 54 percent, also thinks the U.S. campaign against terrorism is going well, although that is vastly down from its heights at the time of the invasion of Afghanistan in early 2002. And there is softness in this measure: Just eight percent say the campaign is going "very" well, while 21 percent take the other extreme, saying it's not going well at all.
With the 9/11 anniversary coming this Tuesday, there's continued division -- perhaps realism -- about the limits of terrorism prevention. About half the public expresses confidence in the government's ability to prevent further terrorist attacks, but about half does not. Few express no confidence, 10 percent; but few too express a great deal of confidence, 15 percent. All these are near their long-term averages.
Some personal insecurity remains -- a lasting impact of the 9/11 attacks, albeit one that has subsided somewhat. Sixty-six percent of Americans say they're worried about the possibility of more major terrorist attacks in the United States, matching the fewest since 9/11. Twenty-five percent worry "a great deal" about another attack, about average for the last several years -- a minority, but still one in four Americans.
There are some differences among groups in the level of worry about terrorism. There's little difference across regions of the country. But worry is higher among women (74 percent) than men (58 percent), and lower among Republicans (57 percent) compared with Democrats (72 percent) or independents (67 percent).
Among the biggest gaps, then, is that 80 percent of Democratic women are worried about another attack, compared with 53 percent of Republican men.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 4-7, 2007, among a random national sample of 1,002 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.