Opposition to Iraq War Reaches New High

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Sixty-three percent say U.S. made mistake in sending troops

PRINCETON, NJ -- The most recent USA Today/Gallup poll finds 63% of Americans saying the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, a new high mark by one percentage point.

The new high in Iraq war opposition is also notable because it is the highest "mistake" percentage Gallup has ever measured for an active war involving the United States -- surpassing by two points the 61% who said the Vietnam War was a mistake in May 1971. At that time, however, Gallup found greater uncertainty (11% no opinion) and lower outright support for the Vietnam War (28% said it was not a mistake) than it does for the Iraq war today (36%), so it is not clear-cut as to which war was less popular with the American public.

When Gallup has asked about Vietnam retrospectively over the years since the war ended, as many as 74% of Americans (in 1990) said it was a mistake.

In February and March 1952, a majority of Americans also said the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Korea, the only other U.S. intervention since 1950 that has registered majority opposition.

Last summer, just 25% said the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Afghanistan. Opposition to the first Persian Gulf War reached only as high as 30%, in January 1991 (before actual fighting began; after fighting commenced, the high was just 21%).

By now, public opposition to the war is pretty well-established. Gallup has found at least half of Americans calling the war a mistake in all but one survey since December 2005. The average percentage saying the war is a mistake has increased every year of the conflict, and is nearly twice as high thus far in 2008 (the sixth year of the conflict) as it was in the initial year.

Implications

Even though majority opposition to the Iraq war is basically cemented, other Gallup polling has found that the public does not necessarily advocate a quick end to the war. While a majority now favors a timetable for withdrawing troops, only about one in five Americans think the withdrawal should begin immediately and be completed as soon as possible.

The public will implicitly choose one path on Iraq this fall, given its choice between Republican presidential candidate John McCain (who favors the war and argues the consequences of withdrawal would be severe) and either Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama (both of whom oppose the war and want to end it as quickly as they deem prudent).

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,016 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 18-20, 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 ±3 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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