Most Americans Expect U.S. to Be in Iraq Several More Years

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Expect faster drawdown if Democrat elected president in 2008

PRINCETON, NJ -- A recent Gallup Panel survey shows that most Americans expect the United States to have a significant number of troops in Iraq several years after the 2008 election, regardless of which party wins the presidency. Americans believe the withdrawal process will happen more quickly if a Democrat rather than a Republican is elected president. Perhaps because of that, Americans are more likely to predict the U.S. military will be in Iraq longer than it should be if a Republican is elected than if a Democrat is elected.

The Oct. 25-28 Gallup Panel survey gauged Americans’ expectations about the United States’ military presence in Iraq following the 2008 election. In an experimental design, a random half-sample of survey respondents were asked how many more years they think the United States would have a significant number of troops in Iraq if a Democrat were elected president in 2008. The other half-sample was asked the same question in reference to a Republican being elected in 2008. The question was open-ended, so respondents could give any estimate. Results are shown in the following table:

Suppose a [Republican/Democrat] is elected president in 2008. From the time that [Republican/Democratic] president takes office in January 2009, for how many more years do you think the United States would continue to have a significant number of troops stationed in Iraq? [OPEN-ENDED]

 

If a Republican is elected

If a Democrat is elected

 

%

%

One year or less

10

32

Two years

17

24

Three years

11

10

Four years

16

7

Five years

15

11

Six to 10 years

19

9

More than 10 years

7

4

 

 

 

No opinion

5

3

 

 

 

Mean

7.4 years

4.1 years

Median

4 years

2 years

It is clear that Americans predict the U.S. military presence will continue longer if a Republican is elected. This is in keeping with what the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates are saying on the campaign trail, with most Democrats looking to end the U.S. commitment as quickly as possible and most Republicans taking a “wait-and-see” approach.

Americans predict an average of 7.4 more years for U.S. troops in Iraq if a Republican is elected president in 2008, compared with 4.1 years if a Democrat wins. Those averages are inflated to some degree by several long estimates in excess of 20 years.

More specifically, a majority of Americans, 56%, believe the United States’ significant military presence in Iraq will continue for up to two years if a Democrat is elected, and more than 7 in 10 believe it will continue for up to four years, which would roughly coincide with the 2012 presidential election. Even though Americans expect a longer commitment if a Republican is elected, a majority (54%) believe it will be up to four more years before the United States will be largely out of Iraq if the GOP prevails next year.

Thus, it appears that, regardless of which party wins the 2008 presidential election, most Americans expect a continued substantial U.S. military presence in Iraq for most, if not all, of that president’s first term.

How Long Is Too Long?

After estimating how much longer they expect the United States to be in Iraq, respondents were asked if they thought that amount of time was “more years than it should be, about the right amount, or fewer years than it should be.” That gives a sense of how much time in Iraq Americans are willing to tolerate.

Putting aside for a moment the number of additional years the respondents personally forecast, Americans are more likely to say their expected commitment will be “more years than it should be” if a Republican is elected than if a Democrat is elected.

In your view, do you think that [number of years] would be -- [ROTATED: more years than it should be, about the right amount of time, or fewer years than it should be]?

           

If a Republican is elected

If a Democrat is elected

 

%

%

Fewer years than should be

9

17

Right amount of time

33

43

More years than should be

57

39

No opinion

1

1

That difference largely stems from the fact that Americans believe the U.S. military presence in Iraq will continue for a longer period of time if a Republican succeeds George W. Bush than if a Democrat does so.

To get a better sense of how much additional time in Iraq Americans might consider reasonable, answers to this question were analyzed by respondents’ estimates of how many more years they believe the United States will continue to have a significant military presence in Iraq. To do this, the two half-samples were combined, so the data included both those who were asked about a Republican president and those asked about a Democratic president.

As would be expected, Americans appear much more willing to consider a limited engagement in Iraq on the next president’s watch reasonable than an extended one.

Specifically,

  • Those who expect the United States to be in Iraq for a year or less once the next president takes office are most likely to believe that is the appropriate amount of time to be in Iraq (48%), though they are slightly more likely to say that is not enough time (30%) than to say it is too much time (22%).
  • Americans who expect an additional two- to three-year term in Iraq are generally divided as to whether that amount of time is too long (45%) or about right (44%).
  • A majority of Americans expecting a commitment of four years or longer believe that is more years than it should be, with the size of that majority expanding as the expected number of years in Iraq increases.

Implications

Figuring out a way to reduce or end the U.S. commitment in Iraq will likely be job No. 1 for the next president. Gallup polling shows that relatively few Americans favor an immediate withdrawal, but most Americans currently prefer that the United States reduce its troop levels. Regardless of their preferences, the data presented here indicate that most Americans expect the United States to have a significant military presence in Iraq through much if not all of the next president’s first term. And the data also suggest that Americans appear willing to accept a continued presence in Iraq until that time, but probably not longer than that.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup Panel study are based on telephone interviews with 1,000 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 25-28, 2007. Gallup panel members are recruited through random selection methods. The panel is weighted so that it is demographically representative of the U.S. adult population. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the 468 national adults in the Form A half sample (asked about a Republican president), the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

For results based on the 532 national adults in the Form B half sample (asked about a Democratic president), the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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