Decision to attack Iraq brings Clinton dividends Approval ratings rise, poll finds

June 29, 1993|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- President Clinton's decision to attack Iraq has brought him a substantial boost in approval ratings for handling both foreign policy and his overall job as president and has diminished uncertainty over his leadership on the world stage, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

The poll found that two-thirds of Americans surveyed supported the weekend air strike on the Iraqi intelligence headquarters in Baghdad, and six out of 10 approved of Mr. Clinton's general dealings with Iraq, more than approved of Mr. Clinton's handling of the crises in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Somalia.

As Mr. Clinton prepares to travel to Tokyo next week for a meeting of the Group of 7 industrial democracies, White House officials seized on the air strike as evidence that the president is sure-footed in international affairs.

The administration sent out its top military officials, most notably Gen. Colin L. Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on a series of television and newspaper interviews in the past two days to praise Mr. Clinton as a tough leader who would not be bullied by the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein.

The poll indicated that many in the public already were supportive; 61 percent said that the retaliation is "a good idea because it teaches Saddam Hussein a lesson," while 28 percent said it is "a bad idea because it risks further bloodshed."

The incident appears to be the latest in a line of what scholars call "rally events," when uses of force abroad or diplomatic breakthroughs cause Americans to rally around their flag, their troops, and their commander in chief. Past "rally events" have produced, on average, an 8-percentage-point increase in a president's approval rating, and they have lasted an average of about 10 weeks, according to an analysis of the last 10 presidencies by the Gallup Organization.

For example, then-President Bush's popularity surged by 18 percentage points in January 1991, when allied air strikes on Iraq began in the Persian Gulf War, according to the analysis. Mr. Clinton's gain since Saturday appears to fit the rally-event pattern. The Times/CBS News poll found that after the air strike, 50 percent of Americans surveyed approved of the way Mr. Clinton was handling his overall job as president; last week, only 39 percent approved. More specifically, after the bombing, 49 hTC percent said they approved Mr. Clinton's stewardship of foreign policy; just before the attack, respondents were was split, with an approval of 38 percent and disapproval of 40 percent.

el,1l The national telephone poll was conducted both before and after Saturday's attack. Interviews with 1,363 adults were completed on June 21 to 24; 622 of the same individuals were interviewed a second time after the attack in order to gauge any change in their reactions. The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for the entire sample, and 4 percentage points for results from the post-attack call-backs.

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