Americans on Iraq: Should the U.S. Stay or Go?

by Lydia Saad

Most Americans favor an exit timetable, but disagree about timing

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are as divided today as they have been since last September about the United States' troop presence in Iraq: 41% favor setting a timetable for gradually pulling out of Iraq while 35% want to maintain troops there until the situation improves. Only 18% of Americans favor an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops.

Looking at the same data differently, 60% of Americans want the United States to set a timetable for removing troops from Iraq rather than maintain an indefinite military commitment. But there is no national consensus on how soon the United States should start pulling out: 18% of Americans favor immediate withdrawal on a timetable, 41% favor gradual withdrawal on a timetable, and 35% favor no withdrawal. (An additional 1% favor a timetable, but have no opinion about whether withdrawal should be immediate or gradual.)

Regardless of what they may personally want to happen, a slight majority of Americans -- 52% -- believe the United States will continue to have a significant number of troops in Iraq for at least another four years. Only 39% predict the major U.S. troop deployment will end within the next three years.

One reason most Americans object to maintaining troop levels indefinitely may be that, to many, it is unclear the troops are achieving their goals. While 40% of Americans perceive that the 2007 U.S. troop surge in Iraq is having a positive effect on the situation there, nearly as many (38%) say the surge is not making much difference, and 20% say it is making things worse.

This is a much more positive balance of opinion about the U.S. troop surge than Gallup found in July 2007, when as many Americans thought it was making matters worse as said it was improving things. Positive attitudes about the surge grew last summer and fall -- rising from 22% in July to 40% in late November/early December -- but have failed to expand any further.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 2,021 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 21-24, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

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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