NEW YORK – Even though half of the public believes the troop surge has helped the situation in Iraq, and a sizable majority thinks Iraq will likely become a base for terrorism if troops leave prematurely, a new FOX News poll shows that by almost two-to-one Americans support withdrawing troops by April 2008.
Opinion Dynamics Corp. conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News from July 17 to July 18. The poll has a 3-point error margin.
According to the poll, a slim 51 percent majority of Americans thinks the recent increase in troops has led to improvements in Iraq (18 percent major improvements, 33 percent minor), while 39 percent say the surge has not made much of a difference.
If U.S. troops leave before the Iraqis are ready to take over, more than 7 of 10 Americans (71 percent) think it is at least somewhat likely that Al Qaeda will take over the country and use it as a base for terrorism, and another 54 percent think the Iraqi people would be worse off if U.S. troops left now.
Despite those views, Americans have had enough: 61 percent support withdrawing U.S. troops by April 2008 — nearly twice the number that oppose withdrawal on that timeline (32 percent). Fully 83 percent of Democrats support U.S. troops leaving by the spring compared to just 34 percent of Republicans. A majority of Republicans (56 percent) oppose such a move.
An interim report on progress in Iraq was released last week and showed satisfactory progress on less than half of the milestones. More Americans (47 percent) say the interim report makes them think the troops should get out now rather than stay (36 percent).
A majority (64 percent) thinks a decision about when to remove U.S. troops should be made after Gen. David Petraeus gives the complete Congressionally-mandated report in September; 29 percent think a decision should be made now.
"It appears the various administration rationales for keeping troops in Iraq are no longer enough to stave off the growing consensus in favor of a phased withdrawal," comments Ernest Paicopolos, a principal at Opinion Dynamics Corporation.
The new Democratically controlled Congress has been working to pass legislation that sets a specific withdrawal deadline. If such a bill were to hit President Bush’s desk, 44 percent think he should veto it and 48 percent say he shouldn’t.
The public has mixed views on whether the United States is obligated to stay and help the Iraqi people. Even if the United States wanted to remove its troops from Iraq, about half of Americans (48 percent) think the country is obligated to stay there and help the Iraqi people, while the other half disagrees (46 percent).
President Bush receives the bulk of the blame for how things are going in Iraq. A third of Americans (33 percent) think the president is to blame, 22 percent place the blame on Al Qaeda and insurgents, 16 percent blame the Iraqi people for failing to take charge and 7 percent blame Congress for approving and continuing to fund the war.
Some Americans would like to hear less blame and criticism about the war. While 48 percent think criticism of the administration’s handling of the war is part of our country’s democracy and is healthy, almost as many — 46 percent — think the criticism has gone too far and is hurting the country.
On more than one occasion President Bush has said he has to "trust his gut" to do what is right. And he has also made clear his distaste for making decisions based on public opinion polls. How does the public feel about that? When asked how the president should decide the next steps in Iraq, by 48 percent to 36 percent Americans say he should follow the polls rather than his intestine.
Another person who listens to his gut is Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who made headlines recently when he explained that comments he made about the increased risks of terrorism this summer were based on a "gut feeling."
Chertoff’s comments may have tuned more people in to the possibility of attacks, as 43 percent say they think it is "very likely" there will be a major terrorist attack in the near future, up from 38 percent who thought so in January 2006 and 33 percent in July 2005.