Thursday, December 15, 2005

US and Iraqi Opinion on the eve of the elections

On the eve of the Iraqi elections, there are new polls of US and Iraqi opinion.

Pew Poll of US Opinion on Iraq

The intensifying political debate over Iraq has not moved public opinion about the war and U.S. policy. The public remains evenly divided over withdrawing U.S. forces as well as the decision to take military action. The latest Pew survey also shows that Americans have a mixed view of conditions on the ground in Iraq:

* Fully 61% of the public believes that progress is being made in training Iraqi forces, while nearly as many (58%) see progress being achieved in establishing a democracy in Iraq. But on balance, more Americans say the U.S. is losing ground in reducing civilian casualties and preventing a civil war.

* The nearly even division in the public over whether to keep troops in Iraq obscures a more complicated set of opinions about what to do next. Most of those who say they want the troops home "as soon as possible" apparently do not mean "now." And not everyone who wants the U.S. to stay is opposed to setting a timetable for a troop withdrawal. Americans also are wary about consequences of a quick withdrawal - 58% say terrorist organizations will become stronger if the United States withdraws its forces soon.

* There is modest optimism that tomorrow's elections in Iraq will lead to a more stable situation in the country. Roughly four-in-ten
(37%) express that opinion; that is significantly greater than the percentages who said that before previous balloting in Iraq, in October and last January (29% each).

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted among 1,502 adults Dec. 7-11 shows that President Bush's approval ratings have not improved. Just
38% approve of his job performance which is little changed from November (36%). Only about three-in-ten (28%) say he has a clear plan for bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion.

The survey also finds that the new Medicare prescription drug program is drawing a mixed response. More Americans approve than disapprove of the plan (by 48%-30%), but approval is down from two years ago (55%). And when asked to describe their first impression of the program, more offer criticism than praise; seniors in particular describe the plan as confusing and costly.

Public Unmoved by Washington's Rhetoric on Iraq Modest Election Optimism, Positive Views of Iraqi Troop Training View complete report
ABC poll of Iraqi public opinion

26 percent of Iraqis say U.S. and other coalition forces should "leave now" and another 19 percent say they should go after the government chosen in this week’s election takes office; that adds to 45 percent. Roughly the other half say coalition forces should remain until security is restored (31 percent), until Iraqi security forces can operate independently (16 percent) or longer (five percent).

Average household incomes have soared by 60 percent in the last 20 months (to $263 a month), 70 percent of Iraqis rate their own economic situation positively and consumer goods are sweeping the country. In early 2004 six percent of Iraqi households had cell phones; now it’s 62 percent. Ownership of satellite dishes has nearly tripled, and many more families now own air conditioners (58 percent, up from 44 percent), cars, washing machines and kitchen appliances.

There are positive political signs as well. Three-quarters of Iraqis express confidence in the national elections being held this week, 70 percent approve of the new constitution and 70 percent – including most people in Sunni and Shiite areas alike – want Iraq to remain a unified country. Interest in politics has soared.

Preference for a democratic political structure has advanced, to 57 percent of Iraqis, while support for an Islamic state has lost ground, to 14 percent (the rest, 26 percent, chiefly in Sunni Arab areas, favor a "single strong leader.")

US Right to Invade

Shia areas 59%

Sunni 7%

The election itself looks wide open, at least from the perspective of these October-to-November interviews. Thirty-seven percent of Iraqis said they hadn’t decided which party to support (but were planning to vote). Those with a preference were scattered among a wide range of political parties.

Support for former prime minister’s Ayad Allawi’s Wifaq National Movement, or Iraqi National Accord Movement, was nine percent; the Kurdish PUK, nine percent; the Shiite-affiliated Islamic al-Dawa Party, eight percent. Parties people would "never vote for" include the now-outlawed al-Baath (nine percent) and al-Dawa (seven percent).

National leaders with the greatest trust include the current prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari (15 percent), Allawi (15 percent) and Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani (10 percent), with others in single digits. But al-Jaffari also comes up as No. 1 on the don’t-trust at-all list, at 12 percent. Such is politics.

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