WASHINGTON – Nine months of chaos and casualties in Iraq since Saddam Hussein's (search) capture have taken a heavy toll on American opinion of President Bush's decision to go to war. Last December, when Saddam was caught, public support for Bush was 2-to-1 in favor. Now the public is evenly divided on whether the war was the right thing to do or whether it was a mistake.
Older people, minorities, people with lower incomes, residents of the Northeast and Catholics are among those increasingly skeptical of the war effort, according to Associated Press polling.
These shifts in public sentiment reflect the difficulties in Iraq — including a death toll nearing 1,000 U.S. soldiers, the violent insurgency against the new Iraqi government and U.S. forces and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, which was among the central justifications for Bush's decision to go to war.
"It was a mistake," said 73-year-old Mil Jenkinson, a retired schoolteacher and a Democrat from Dickinson, N.D. "There were no weapons of mass destruction. I keep thinking it's not our place to rule the world. Everyone does not think our way of life is the right way.
"It's arrogant of us to go into a country and tell them what kind of government to have."
Both Democrats and independents lost enthusiasm for the war during the period since Saddam was captured. Almost nine in 10 Republicans still say it was the right thing to do.
Overall, about half in an August AP-Ipsos poll said they think the war in Iraq was the right thing to do. But even some of those people have doubts about what has happened since the invasion.
For Jim Adams, a 42-year-old Republican from Plymouth, N.H., the decision to use force in Iraq was right, but the follow-through was lacking.
"I don't think it was a mistake to go there," Adams said. "But we've gone down a slippery slope.
"We had good reason to go based on the evidence at the time, but we've gone in a direction we never intended to go," he said. "We've alienated the population. We wanted the population to embrace our values, and we've done exactly the opposite."
Still, Adams says he supports President Bush, and thinks he is the best one to handle the situation.
About six in 10 feel President Bush does not have a clear plan for bringing the Iraq situation to a successful solution, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll.
The Bush administration has struggled since December against a violent insurgency in Iraq that has killed soldiers. A flare-up of violence in southern towns in April led to increased combat operations. A cease-fire with one militant group recently fell apart, leading to more clashes in Najaf.
Despite the handover of political power to an Iraqi interim government on June 30, the U.S. military continues to lead the military fight in Iraq.
In addition, U.S. weapons inspectors continue to search but have found no weapons of mass destruction.
In the August poll, those most likely to say the Iraq war was the right thing to do were Republicans, Southerners, those who earn more than $50,000 a year and young adults.
"Iraq was getting out of hand," said Kim Rivers, a 35-year-old Republican who works as a teacher's aide in Champlain, N.Y. "It should have been done a long time ago."
Yet among many different groups of Americans, a majority of people now say the war was a mistake. Those groups include minorities (65 percent), Northeasterners (60 percent), Democrats (80 percent), people who make less than $25,000 a year (57 percent) and Catholics (51 percent).
In December, support for the war was widespread among most groups, although minorities even then were about evenly split on the question.
Last December, for example, 56 percent of seniors said the war in Iraq was the right thing to do and 40 percent disagreed. Now, six in 10 say the Iraq war was wrong.
Looked at in terms of the presidential campaign, almost nine in 10 Bush supporters say going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do, while almost nine in 10 supporters of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry say it was a mistake, according to polls conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs.
While the number dubious about the Iraq war has grown over the past eight months, the number who think the United States must stay until the job is done remains fairly constant. Since spring, just over half in various polls have said they support staying in Iraq until it is stabilized.
The most recent AP-Ipsos poll of 1,001 adults was conducted Aug. 3-5 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, larger for subgroups like older Americans.