Pictures of abuse spell bad news for
Bush By Jim Lobe
The photographs of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US
soldiers have had a major impact on public opinion in
the United States, according to back-to-back national
polls that also show continued erosion in support for
President George W Bush and the war in Iraq.
major poll released on Wednesday by the Pew Research
Center for the People and the Press found that a
whopping 76 percent of the public has seen the photos,
while a USA Today/CNN Gallup poll released on Tuesday
found that 48 percent of respondents believe the
incidents depicted in the photos represented a "major
setback" to the US mission in Iraq.
that accompanied both polls concluded that the photos
appear to be directly linked to a sharp loss in support
for the US occupation.
The poll released on
Tuesday, which was conducted last weekend, found that 54
percent of those interviewed now say going to war was
"not worth it" - up from 47 percent just one week ago,
when the photos were first appearing in US media. The
latest poll marks the first time that a majority has
come to that conclusion.
Moreover, nearly half
of the USA Today poll respondents - 47 percent - said
they believe the US should withdraw some or all of its
troops from Iraq, another sharp shift in opinion from
earlier months. Fifty-three percent of Pew respondents
said the US should not pull out until a stable
government is established in Baghdad. That was down from
63 percent in January. In addition, the poll found a
significant gender gap on the issue, with a plurality of
women favoring withdrawal.
Similarly, the Pew
poll found that public assessments of the war have
reached their lowest levels yet. Only 46 percent
describe the war as going well - the first time a
majority has described the war as going "not well" as
opposed to feeling that developments in Iraq were at
least going "fairly well".
More ominously for
Bush, 55 percent of self-described political
"independents" - that is, potential "swing" voters who
will likely decide the outcome in November's elections -
chose the "not well" option, compared with 26 percent of
Republicans and 67 percent of Democrats.
surveys show that a majority of respondents still
believe that the decision to go to war was right.
However, that majority has shrunk from highs of nearly
80 percent when US troops entered Baghdad, to record
lows of just 54 percent in the Tuesday poll and 51
percent in the Pew poll.
The latter also
suggested that the decline of support in swing
constituencies has been particularly sharp, with only 48
percent of independents now saying going to war was the
correct decision. And while key elements of Bush's
political base - self-described Republicans and white
evangelical Protestants - remain solidly behind the
decision to go to war, support for the decision has
dropped by more than a third among white Catholics and
mainline Protestants, according to the analysis.
The poll results come amid considerable
speculation about the course of the election campaign.
Democrats have become increasingly concerned that Bush's
standing in the polls has not fallen vis-a-vis his
presumptive Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry,
despite the tide of bad news coming out of Iraq.
In most polls, the lead in the race has
see-sawed between the two men, with Kerry, who has
maintained a fairly low profile on Iraq since the
prison-abuse scandal first surfaced, seemingly unable to
establish a decisive lead.
prominent pollsters, Andrew Kohut, who directs the Pew
Center, and John Zogby, who runs his own polling firm,
have suggested that the public is far more focused on
Bush than on Kerry, who can be expected to garner much
more attention as the actual election approaches.
In a New York Times column on Wednesday, Kohut
compared the current race to the 1980 presidential
election between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, noting
that Carter held a significant lead in the polls during
the first six months of the year even as his
public-approval ratings slumped badly. It was not until
the summer that Reagan drew even and then pulled ahead
just before the election itself. Similarly, Bush's
father enjoyed a modest lead over Bill Clinton in 1992,
despite the fact that his approval ratings fell sharply
as the economic recession took hold.
voters' disillusionment with the current President Bush
continue, they will evaluate John Kerry and decide
whether he is worth a chance," Kohut said, adding that
Bush's approval ratings are the most important barometer
at this stage in the race.
Zogby also observed
that Bush's performance ratings - and even his showing
in surveys against Kerry - demonstrated significant
weakness for an incumbent compared with relevant
antecedents, noting that only 43 percent believed that
Bush deserved to be re-elected as of mid-April, compared
with 51 percent who said it was time for someone new.
Recent polls also suggest that the intensity
among those who want Bush out is both greater and
growing faster than feelings on the pro-Bush side.
The latest Pew poll shows that Kerry currently
leads Bush 50 to 45 percent in a two man-race and by 46
to 43 percent in a three-man race with Ralph Nader.
But confidence in Bush relative to Kerry has
eroded significantly on Iraq and the economy. While the
president retains a slight edge as the candidate better
prepared to make wise decisions in Iraq policy, that was
down by 12 percentage points compared with six weeks
ago. At the same time, Kerry now leads Bush by
double-digit margins on the economy and health care.
On the other hand, Bush still leads by a
significant margin (52-33 percent) on the question of
whom voters prefer when it comes to defending the
country from terrorism.
Bush also has suffered a
significant drop in approval, from 48 percent in late
April to 44 percent now. Some 26 percent of respondents
said their overall impression of Bush has gotten worse
over the past few weeks. Among likely swing voters,
Bush's approval rating also stands at 44 percent, an 11
percent drop compared with February.
ominous for the Bush camp are overall assessments of
where the country is heading - seen by some pollsters as
the most critical variable for incumbents. On that
question, public confidence has fallen to 33 percent,
the lowest level in eight years, according to the Pew
On reactions to the photos themselves, the
USA Today survey found that four in five respondents
said they were bothered by the abuse and nearly three in
four said there were no circumstances under which such
incidents could be justified. More than 80 percent said
they believe US soldiers have higher standards of
conduct than their counterparts from other nations.