Polls show heavy support for decision on ground war

February 26, 1991|By Frank Starr | Frank Starr,Chief of The Sun's Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — An article in yesterday's Sun incorrectly stated that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., voted against giving President Bush authority to use force in the Persian Gulf. Mr. McCain voted for the action.

WASHINGTON -- An overwhelming majority of Americans -- more than 80 percent in two polls -- approve of President Bush's decision to launch the ground attack Saturday against Iraqi forces in Kuwait, and a growing majority believes the United States should force Saddam Hussein out of power.

Support for President Bush and his job performance jumped after the beginning of the ground war, to 87 percent Sunday from 78 percent on Feb. 12 and 13, according to a poll for the New York Times and CBS News.


A Gallup poll of 783 adults taken Sunday found that 84 percent approved of the decision to start the ground war and 81 percent agreed with the timing of it. Only 14 percent said Mr. Bush should have left more time for diplomatic efforts aimed at Iraqi withdrawal.

Another poll taken Friday for ABC News and the Washington Post found 86 percent of respondents would support the ground war "if that's what it takes to get Iraq out of Kuwait," and 61 percent favored starting it "right away."

The polls also reported that large majorities of people believe the United States should go beyond the liberation of Kuwait and force Mr. Hussein from power.

Sunday's Gallup poll reported that 24 percent believed fighting should stop once Kuwait is liberated and 72 percent said the allies should "go beyond the U.N. resolutions and continue fighting until Saddam Hussein is removed from power or his war-making capability is destroyed."

Two weeks earlier, Gallup found opinion divided, 62 percent to 34 percent, in favor of going beyond the U.N. mandate.

The New York Times-CBS News poll found an increase of people holding that view from 46 percent in mid-February to 58 percent Sunday.

The administration has consistently refused to say that one of its purposes is forcing Mr. Hussein from power, limiting itself instead to the goals stated in the 12 U.N. Security Council resolutions, which refer only to maintaining "peace and security in the area."

But Secretary of State James A. Baker III said Sunday that the U.N. resolutions "imply that the restoration of peace and stability in the gulf would be a heck of a lot easier if he and that leadership were not in power in Iraq."

Little of the support for President Bush can be expected to stretch as far as the 1992 elections.

Even voter disapproval of senators' votes in opposition to President Bush on the issue of going to war does not, in most cases, affect attitudes toward those senators' re-election.

A Democratic political strategist said of the polling figures: "There's no doubt there will be some residual benefit to the president, but we're a year and half away from elections, and [they depend on] how the political landscape looks then, not now."

"There's great support for this war," he said, because "you have an enemy without redeeming qualities and an army behind very skillful leadership."

Mason-Dixon Opinion Research Inc. tested attitudes toward seven senators, including Maryland's Barbara A. Mikulski, who are facing re-election in 1992 and who voted against Mr. Bush on the war resolution Jan. 12.

While voters expressed strong disapproval of those anti-war votes, only two -- Sen. Terry Sanford, D-N.C., and Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., who are already believed to face tight campaigns -- may be affected.

Although 65 percent of Marylanders expressed disapproval of Senator Mikulski's vote against giving President Bush the authority to use force against Iraq, in a one-on-one matchup against Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, the Democratic incumbent was favored 52 percent to 29 percent.

But Mr. Sanford, whose vote against using force was disapproved by 65 percent of North Carolinians, could be sure of only 29 percent of his state's voters, while 58 percent would either vote against him or consider another candidate.

The situation was even worse for Mr. Hollings.

In South Carolina, 70 percent of the voters disapproved of his vote against going to war and 59 percent would either consider another candidate or vote against him. His job approval rating fell from 56 percent to 44 percent between October 1990 and January 1991.

The other senators, in less trouble with voters despite their negative war votes, were Alan J. Dixon, D-Ill.; Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii; Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa; and John McCain, R-Ariz.

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