Ohioans mixed on war but growing happier with Bush

The Columbus Dispatch – March 20, 2005

President Bush is a little more popular these days, but his war isn’t.

At the second anniversary of the U.S.-led coalition’s invasion of Iraq, 38 percent of Columbus-area residents say the war has been worth the toll in lives and other costs, a new poll shows. And 36 percent say Bush has a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq.

Both figures have changed little since May 2004, according to a series of polls by Saperstein Associates for The Dispatch.

“We’re throwing barrels of money away, not to mention human lives,” said respondent Marsha Irvin, 45, of Grove City, a managed-care specialist with CareWorks. Irvin initially supported military action in Iraq.

However, Bush’s job approval rating climbed to 50 percent in the most-recent survey, a 6-point increase. And the percentage of those who say the situation in Iraq is going at least somewhat well has jumped 17 points in the past 10 months, to 48.

“You can’t win a war in a year or two,” said Bush supporter Lynn Kundla, 32, of Galloway, a registered nurse and mother of two. “The elections happened. That’s a good thing.”

Kundla said she cares about the American lives lost in Iraq but understands that “you can’t have a war and not expect to have casualties.”

“I had two brothers in the service at the time of Sept. 11. I know how that felt.”

At the war’s two-year mark, both sides in the debate over Iraq can cite plenty of statistics to make their case.

More than 1,500 U.S. troops have been killed, another 11,000 wounded. Reports put the Iraqi death toll at as many as 100,000. The cost of the war has hit $200 billion and still is climbing.

However, more than 8 million Iraqis voted Jan. 30 to elect a National Assembly that met for the first time last week.

The telephone poll of 400 randomly selected people with Columbus-area phone exchanges was conducted March 4-8. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 5 percentage points. The results were weighted slightly to conform with known demographics of the Columbus area.

Martin D. Saperstein, president of the polling firm, said that Bush can take solace in his improved numbers and that the negative sentiments about the war perhaps have bottomed out.

“The president didn’t get a big bump from the (Iraqi) elections, but things may have stabilized,” Saperstein said.

“Opinions on these issues have not deteriorated, from the president’s point of view. The numbers have either stabilized or have gotten slightly better.”

For example, while only one in five respondents agrees that the Iraqi war has decreased the threat of terrorism against the United States, that’s almost double the percentage in May 2004, Saperstein noted.

Poll participant Robert Quail, a retired computer operator from the Linden area, said Bush has done his best to keep the country safe in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack.

“I don’t feel safer now than I did before 9/11, but I’m sure I’d feel less safe if he wasn’t doing what he’s doing,” said Quail, 63.

The Vietnam veteran said Bush was right to invade Iraq and U.S. troops should stay there until the country’s new government is in control.

“I don’t want to leave those people hanging over there,” he said. “But I don’t want to invade anyone else. Let other countries get involved.”

Joann Blankenship, 62, a homemaker from Groveport, said she thinks the United States went to war under false pretenses and is angry about the resulting casualties for both Americans and innocent Iraqis.

“I just don’t know how (Bush) can sleep at night,” she said.

She’s also surprised at how many of her friends and family members think that ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was responsible for the Sept. 11 attack, when “the Iraqis didn’t have anything to do with that.”

Rather than making the United States more secure from terrorism, Blankenship fears the war has made the nation more vulnerable — especially because other nations now “will get their backup.”

“I think we’re going to continually stick our nose into other countries until we are in a much, much bigger mess than we are now,” she said.

The poll shows that respondents with family members who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan are somewhat more negative on Bush and the war.

For instance, while half the respondents approve of Bush’s performance, 37 percent of the military families do. And only a quarter of those with blood ties to the troops say the commander in chief has a clear plan in Iraq.

But Barbara Cannon, 58, a retired state worker who lives in West Jefferson, said Bush has done “an excellent job.” Her son is an Army sergeant stationed in Afghanistan.

Cannon acknowledged that many Iraqis have been killed during the fighting.

“But that still doesn’t match the 3,000 people that were killed Sept. 11, including children in day-care centers,” she said.

“We were attacked, and we don’t need the approval of anybody to defend America. We are at war. The bombs that we let off are precision. The terrorists have done more damage with their homemade roadside bombs.”