Poll finds public weary of Iraq war

Most respondents favor a fixed timetable for withdrawal

12% back raising troop strength

December 13, 2006|By Maura Reynolds | Maura Reynolds,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- A majority of Americans favor setting a fixed timetable for bringing troops home from Iraq, and only 12 percent would support a plan to increase troop strength, an option under consideration by the military, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

A month after the midterm election switched control of Congress to the Democrats, respondents expressed low confidence in President Bush's ability to resolve the conflict in Iraq. By a hefty margin they said Iraq should be the top priority for the new Congress, with a plurality of 45 percent saying they had more trust in Democrats to handle the war. Thirty-four percent said they had more confidence in the president, who has rejected the idea of setting a timetable for withdrawing troops.

Nearly two-thirds said they believe Iraq has descended into "civil war," which the Bush administration has denied.

At a time when the Bush administration is at work on a new strategy for Iraq and is resisting calls to start bringing troops home, the poll suggests that the president and his staff are out of step with public opinion.

"The public doesn't want the status quo any longer in Iraq, and they believe the Democrats, rather than President Bush, will be best at finding a solution to the war," said polling director Susan Pinkus.

Fifty-two percent of the poll's respondents - including nearly one in three Republicans - said they preferred a "fixed timetable" for withdrawal, while only 26 percent of those surveyed favored the president's option of keeping troops on the ground until the country is secure.

About one in eight expressed support for the option of increasing troop strength, which is favored by many Pentagon leaders and has been proposed by Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who is expected to run for president in 2008.

"I'd rather get them home now," Marcia Downing, 54, a Republican from Nashville, Tenn., said in a follow-up interview. "We are losing people day after day after day. Every damn day. Get our sons home."

The war appears to be the top issue on Americans' minds. In response to an open question about priorities for the new Congress, 27 percent of respondents listed Iraq as their top concern. The next two issues were health care at 16 percent and immigration at 11 percent.

Respondents from both parties expressed strong support for the recommendations released last week by the Iraq Study Group, which urged the administration to make a new diplomatic effort to engage Iraq`s neighbors in stabilizing the country.

By 64 percent to 28 percent, respondents favored the group's recommendation to open direct talks with Iran and Syria.

"Dialogue is important in any resolution," said Terry Katz, 52, who runs a landscaping company in Cincinnati, Ohio. "It's better to have friends than enemies."

The Iraq Study Group also encouraged the administration to shift the military mission in Iraq from combat to training, which would permit combat troops to withdraw by early 2008 and a smaller number of training advisers to remain, largely embedded with Iraqi security forces. Respondents also favored that option nearly 2-to-1.

"I believe we need to be out of there," said Marilyn Perlman, 65, of Boulder, Colo. "Pulling our troops out of the midst of the battle makes sense and relocating them near the borders" could prevent more violence.

Overall, 56 percent of those who responded to the poll said they believed that the situation in Iraq was not worth going to war for, compared with 40 percent who said it was. That result was roughly comparable to results from polls earlier this year.

The president's overall approval rating stood at 42 percent, generally in line with other results in the past year.

Respondents said they trusted Democrats more than Republicans on nearly every issue, including the economy.

The only area in which Bush had an advantage over Democrats was the "war on terrorism." Forty-three percent of respondents said they thought the president would do a better job than Democrats on national security and terrorism, while 38 percent said the Democrats would. But his advantage has declined in the past year; in January it was 45 percent to 32 percent.

The poll of 1,489 adults conducted Dec. 8-11 had a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points.

Maura Reynolds writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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