Expectations of high U.S. casualties have skyrocketed, and there's been a jump in the number of Americans who say Iraqi resistance is tougher than they expected. But in a display of resolve, public support for the war with Iraq remains strong and stable.
Eighty-two percent expect substantial U.S. military casualties in this war, a number that's shot up from 37 percent the night of March 20, when a burst of optimism marked the war's start. Expectations of casualties now exceed their pre-war levels.
Fewer Americans — 28 percent — say the Iraqi resistance is tougher than they expected, but this too is up, from 12 percent Sunday night. And 70 percent of Americans now expect the war to last for months or longer, up from 55 percent last week.
Nonetheless, 73 percent in this ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll support the war, essentially unchanged since last week. And 58 percent support it strongly, well up from the pre-war levels of "strong" support, despite the re-evaluation of likely casualties.
Another result is worth watching as a gauge of the potential impact of casualties on public opinion. Thinking about the war's goals versus its costs, 58 percent of Americans call the number of U.S. casualties to date "acceptable." But 34 percent call them "unacceptable," and 10 percent are unsure.
It's an important measure because, among Americans who call the level of casualties "unacceptable," support for the war is nearly 30 points lower, and support for George W. Bush's handling of the situation is nearly 40 points lower.
In another revealing measure, 58 percent call it unlikely that the United States will get "bogged down in a drawn-out war," while 39 percent see some likelihood of this (including 14 percent who call it "very" likely). Again support for the war, and for Bush, are much lower among people who think a drawn-out entanglement is likely.
How It’s Going
All the same, this poll finds little second-guessing. Eighty-two percent say the war is going well, 34 percent say it's going "very" well, and 69 percent approve of Bush's handling of the situation, all essentially unchanged from Sunday.
Sixty-nine percent also say that, considering everything, the United States "did the right thing" in going to war with Iraq, while 26 percent, instead, call it a mistake.
In comparable but not identical questions, the number of Americans saying war was "a mistake" has ranged as high as 61 percent during the Vietnam conflict, 51 percent during the Korean war and 43 percent during the war in Serbia, all in Gallup polls.
A Pew Center poll last Friday night had 71 percent saying the war was going "very well," another example of the short-lived burst of optimism that accompanied its start, when, among other factors, there was speculation Saddam Hussein had been killed or the Iraqi leadership decimated in a "decapitation" raid.
But that kind of assessment isn't the norm. In previous ABCNEWS/Post polls the number of Americans who said the war in Afghanistan was going "very" well ranged from just 23 to 42 percent. And on the war on terrorism it's ranged from 10 to 32 percent — both more in line with today's 34 percent.
Most Americans never have expected a very short war. Last Thursday 39 percent thought it would be over in days or weeks; that declined to 32 percent Sunday and 26 percent now. Fifty-seven percent think it'll last for months; 13 percent, a year or more.
Support for the war is essentially stable among those who think it will last days, weeks or months; it only declines among those who think it will last a year or longer.
Majorities are not inclined to criticize either the administration or the military across a range of measures, from the aggressiveness of the campaign to efforts to avoid civilian casualties and distribute humanitarian aid.
About six in 10, for example, say the aggressiveness of U.S. efforts in both the air war and the ground war in Iraq is "about right," though about three in 10 would prefer a more aggressive approach. About two-thirds also say the level of U.S. efforts to avoid civilian casualties and to distribute humanitarian aid are "about right," with the rest roughly divided on whether the United States is doing too much, or too little, in these areas.
When it comes to rebuilding Iraq and helping its people establish a new government after the war, Americans look eager for help: By a two-to-one margin, the public says it would prefer to have the United Nations, not the United States, take the lead role. That fits with the public's basic view of the war as a means of self-defense, rather than an exercise in nation-building.
As far as the Iraqi people go, more Americans are inclined to think they're on the United States' side in this war, but it's not an overwhelming perception. Forty-nine percent think most Iraqis are on the side of the United States; 34 percent think they take Saddam Hussein's side. A substantial 17 percent are unsure.
People who support the war are 35 points more likely than war opponents to think that most Iraqis take the United States' side.
Sharp partisanship remains in this poll. Democrats divide evenly on whether the war was the right thing to do, or a mistake, by 49 to 47 percent. Republicans, by contrast, call it the right thing by a nearly unanimous 90 to 6 percent. And 91 percent of Republicans support the war, compared to 59 percent of Democrats.
But there's less of a gender gap than in the past. Before the war, women were about 20 points less likely than men to support going to war. That eased to 10 or 12 points after the war began, and in this poll it's down to single digits.
Lastly, in a domestic issue, Americans by a broad 65 to 29 percent support the Senate vote to more than halve Bush's proposed tax cut, from $726 billion to $350 billion over 10 years, to help pay for the war, trim the deficit and shore up Social Security. But fewer than half as many — three in 10 — would eliminate the tax cut entirely.
This ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone March 27, 2003, among a random national sample of 508 adults. The results have a 4.5-point error margin. Fieldwork by TNS Intersearch of Horsham, PA.
Previous ABCNEWS polls can be found in our Poll Vault.