Bush's Support Increased As Buildup and War Went On WAR IN THE GULF

March 10, 1991|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON — TC Washington.

In war, as in everyday life, nothing succeeds like success.

The triumph of U.S.-led forces in the Persian Gulf has everyone from President Bush to ordinary Americans feeling good these days.

Driven by events over the past seven months, public opinion has undergone a dramatic shift, as Americans display a degree of confidence and pride in their country unlike any seen in a generation.

The percentage of Americans who think things in this country are headed in the right direction has risen to 58 percent, up from an all-time low of 19 percent in October, according to an ABC News-Washington Post poll taken in late February.

Mr. Bush's job-approval rating jumped 39 points over the same period. At 90 percent, it stands higher than at any time since pollsters began measuring presidential performance a half-century ago.

Such an upbeat mood may make it hard for some Americans to remember that back in August, when the gulf crisis began, only one-third of the public expected fighting there, according to a New York Times survey, and two out of five adults said Mr. Bush had been too quick to commit U.S. troops.

Even as late as mid-December, a bare majority of Americans -- 55 percent -- favored going to war with Iraq to force it out of Kuwait, the ABC-Post poll found.

Perhaps the most significant shift occurred around the question of a ground war. Ten days before it began last month, only 11 percent of Americans thought a ground war should start soon and 79 percent favored continuing the air campaign, according to a CBS-New York Times poll.

Once ground fighting started, however, three-quarters of those questioned said Mr. Bush had done the right thing, while only 19 percent said he should have waited longer to see if bombing worked.

A key reason for continued public support of the war effort, analysts say, is that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein lived up to Mr. Bush's portrayal of him as an international thug by firing Scud missiles at Israel and neighboring Arab states, polluting the air and water of the gulf and having troops torture thousands of Kuwaitis.

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