Bush, Iraq war losing support

The Columbus Dispatch – September 11, 2005

Like the rest of the country on this anniversary of 9/11, central Ohioans are souring on President Bush and the war he pushed in response to the terrorist attack four years ago.

A new poll by Saperstein Associates for The Dispatch shows nearly every measure of support for Bush and the war in Iraq at its lowest point since the conflict began nearly 2 1/2 years ago.

Bush’s approval rating has sunk to 41 percent in the poll, conducted Aug. 30 through Sept. 3. That’s a 20-point drop from shortly after the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq.

Thirty-seven percent now back his handling of the war, a plunge of nearly 30 points since April 2003. Support for the president’s response to the 9/11 attack has fallen to 50 percent — the first time he has received less than a majority on that issue.

And barely a third — 35 percent — say the war in Iraq is worth the cost in American dollars and lives.

“The body count continues to rise. The public deserves to have answers,” said poll respondent Jennifer McNally, 35, a German Village arts marketing consultant.

“To sacrifice American lives for a cause that is still undefined is disturbing. . . . The lies are endless, and the public’s willingness to believe the lies — it’s just offensive.”

Other respondents, such as Kenneth Snyder, 60, a Grove City convenience-store manager, still support Bush and blame the media for an incomplete portrayal of what’s happening in Iraq.

“I get this feeling that the news is not giving me all the facts, just bad, bad, bad, bad. It’s like when I was in Vietnam: All you heard was the bad things,” said the veteran of 87 combat air missions, who said that his Air Force unit in Thailand invested much effort and money to help orphanages.

Cliff Mueller, 49, a self-employed structural engineer from Westerville, said that, relative to most wars, not that many lives have been lost in Iraq.

“I think a lot of things could be going worse,” he said. “Just look at New Orleans.”

Another poll participant, Sandra Taylor, 58, a Hilltop homemaker and foster parent, said she doesn’t oppose the war so much as she’s grown weary of it.

“We’re spending billions of dollars on a country that doesn’t want us there. We got (Saddam) Hussein out. What are we still doing there?” she wondered.

Noting that one of her foster sons has returned from a stint with the Army in Iraq, Taylor said she initially favored U.S. involvement but now questions how it is helping the war on terrorism.

Indeed, the poll indicates that most central Ohioans are not buying a key Bush premise: The war in Iraq is necessary to keep Americans safe from terrorism.

Only 14 percent say the threat of terrorism against the U.S. has decreased because of the military action in Iraq.

In contrast, about three-fifths say Bush exaggerated information to make the case for war with Iraq, and almost two-thirds believe he has no clear plan for handling the situation there.

Still, 55 percent continue to believe Saddam was a threat to the U.S., although that figure has dropped by 20 points in the past two years. Those who believe he had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. attacked has shrunk to 38 percent, a 30-point fall since September 2003.

Men and whites tended to favor Bush and the war more than women and blacks did.

“It seems like, on most of the issues involving the president, there’s an erosion of support,” said Martin D. Saperstein, president of the Columbus firm that conducted the poll of 400 adults with Columbus phone exchanges.

“Their patience is short when it comes to seeing Americans die, so they’d like this wrapped up quickly in Iraq.”

On the other hand, Bush is pursuing an agenda he says is driven by principle, not polls, so things might not change, Saperstein said.

The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. The results were weighted slightly to reflect central Ohio demographics. The response rate of those contacted was 31 percent.

While Bush has come under fire for his administration’s handling of aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina, Saperstein said that didn’t affect the results of the poll, which was taken during the first five days after the storm struck Aug. 29.

Bush’s approval rating hit an all-time low (45 percent) in a Washington Post/ABC News Poll late last month, as well as in a Zogby America Poll (41 percent) and an Associated Press/Ipsos Poll (39 percent), both released Thursday.

Saperstein said he was struck by how central Ohioans’ concerns about terrorism have changed over the past four years.

For example, in the days immediately after the 9/11 attack, 72 percent said they were “very worried” that Ohio would become a target. That dropped to 5 percent in the latest survey.

Respondents also have become much more pessimistic that those responsible for the attack will be identified and captured, Saperstein noted.

In September 2001, 95 percent thought it likely (72 percent said “very” likely) the perpetrators would be brought to justice; now that optimism has faded to 53 percent saying likely (14 percent saying “very” likely).

Most other worries related to terrorism have decreased, but life has not completely returned to normal in central Ohio, the poll shows. In fact, a small majority still say their lifestyle has changed because of the attack.

For example, a quarter still say they are less willing to fly. And 45 percent say they are now more suspicious of people of Arab descent, a slight increase over the past two years.

“I try to be nice to Arabic people because I know that those people aren’t responsible, but at the same time there’s that little doubt,” said Susie Harmon, 59, who lives near Lithopolis.

“That’s something that kind of bothers me as a free thinker. . . . I feel terrible about it, but there’s just something deep within me.”

Retired nurse Christine Creedon, 55, of the North Side, won’t fly because of 9/11 and worries about one of her seven grandchildren or other relatives getting hurt in a terrorist attack.

“I think about it all the time,” she said. “I’m not obsessed with it, but I am more aware of my surroundings than ever before.”

Dionne Dillard, a 22-year-old security guard from Columbus, said Ohio could be a target, noting that Somali native Nuradin Abdi was charged last year with plotting with al-Qaida operatives to blow up a Columbus-area shopping mall.

“I think we’re doing as much as we can,” she said, “but the first (attack) no one knew about until it happened.”