NEW YORK – On the third anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, majorities of Americans feel that the Iraqi people are better off today and the United States is safer. Even so, over half say they do not believe a free, stable government can be achieved in Iraq. And as continued pressure is put on Iran to stop work on a nuclear weapons program, almost as many Americans say they think Iran will ultimately get nuclear weapons as think it will be stopped either through diplomacy or force. These are just some of the findings of the latest FOX News poll.
More than seven in 10 Americans (74 percent) agree that the United States and the world are safer today without Saddam Hussein in power, including 56 percent that "strongly" agree. These results have remained fairly stable over time and are in line with surveys conducted in 2004 and 2005.
While opinion on whether the Iraqis are better off has been consistently positive, it has moved around a bit. Currently, a clear 59 percent majority of Americans think the Iraqi people are better off today because of the U.S.-led military action, the same number as in early 2005, but down from 64 percent in mid-2005 and a high of 74 percent (March 2004).
"One of the problems with measuring public opinion on Iraq is that attitudes bounce around based on the news — it's sort of the media version of the last person they talked to," comments Opinion Dynamics Chairman John Gorman. "One day they see a parliament meeting in a nice shiny hall and things are looking up; they next day they see footage of bombs and bodies. Given how hard it is for people to get a fix on what is really happening, the last image they see is the one that matters the most."
Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on March 14-15.
A third of the public (34 percent) is optimistic that there will eventually be a free, stable government in Iraq, while a 55 percent majority disagrees. There are sizable partisan divisions, as a slim 51 percent majority of Republicans think it can be achieved, while a 70 percent majority of Democrats think it cannot.
In November 2003, several months after the invasion, the poll asked if the United States had the responsibility to stay in Iraq until a democratic government was established, "even if it takes years." At that time, a majority (58 percent) said yes, the United States does have that responsibility and 34 percent said no.
Today, those numbers are much more mixed: 44 percent now think the United States has the responsibility to stay until a democracy is in place and 48 percent disagree.
Again, as on many Iraq-related questions, the views divide along party lines; Republicans (61 percent) are more than twice as likely as Democrats (28 percent) to think the United States is obligated to stay.
The situation with Iran trying to acquire nuclear weapons continues to heat up. This week, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have been working on a draft statement intended to discourage Iran from continuing efforts to enrich uranium and on Capitol Hill the House International Relations Committee approved legislation that would tighten sanctions.
The new FOX News poll finds that nearly half of Americans (48 percent) think Iran will be stopped from getting nuclear weapons, either through diplomacy (22 percent) or force (26 percent), while nearly as many (42 percent) think Iran will eventually get nuclear weapons.
Polling conducted earlier this year found that most of the public believes Iran wants to use uranium enrichment for military purposes (82 percent) rather than for the peaceful purposes it claims (8 percent) (January 24-25).
If diplomacy fails, 54 percent of Americans support using air strikes only to stop Iran from getting nukes, up from 51 percent in January, and 42 percent support using air strikes and ground troops, down from 46 percent. The portion supporting the use of "whatever military force is necessary" dropped 9 percentage points, from 59 percent in January to 50 percent today.
A majority (57 percent) thinks it is likely that the United States will be forced to take military action against Iran in the next year, including almost one in five that say "very likely" (19 percent).
• PDF: Click here for full poll results.