Public Confident in Petraeus, but Wants Iraq Timetable

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Only one in three Americans believe surge of troops making situation in Iraq better

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- As Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, prepares to testify before Congress on the situation in Iraq, it is unclear to what extent his report will change American minds on the war. A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds that while a majority of Americans are confident in Petraeus' recommendations about what to do next in Iraq, most expect that rather than being an objective assessment of the situation in Iraq, the report will be biased to reflect what the Bush administration wants the public to believe. Only about one-third of Americans say the surge of U.S. troops in Iraq is making the situation there better, and most continue to favor a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Trust in Petraeus

According to the Sept. 7-8 poll, the public has more trust in Petraeus' recommendations for what to do next in Iraq than it does in other key leaders involved in developing U.S. policy toward Iraq. Sixty-three percent of Americans say they have a great deal (27%) or a fair amount (36%) of confidence in Petraeus' recommendations. Fifty-eight percent have confidence in what the "Joint Chiefs of Staff and other military leaders at the Pentagon" would recommend.

Americans have far less trust in political leaders than in military leaders when it comes to Iraq policy. Only 38% have at least a fair amount of confidence in President Bush's recommendations for the future course of action in Iraq. Congress fares slightly better than Bush on this measure, with 44% saying they are confident in congressional Democrats' recommendations, and 41% saying the same about those of congressional Republicans.

Americans are least confident in what Iraq's political leaders might recommend -- just 27% have confidence in their plans.

Please tell me how much confidence you have in the recommendations of each of the following for what to do next in Iraq -- a great deal, a fair amount, only a little, or almost none. How about --[RANDOM ORDER]?

 

2007 Sep 7-8
(sorted by "great deal/fair amount")

Great deal

Fair amount

Only a little

Almost none

Great deal/ fair amount

 

%

%

%

%

%

General David Petraeus

27

36

15

11

63

The Joint Chiefs of Staff/Other military leaders at the Pentagon

21

37

21

15

58

The Democrats in Congress

12

32

28

25

44

The Republicans in Congress

11

30

26

29

41

George W. Bush

16

22

17

43

38

Iraqi elected officials

4

23

27

38

27

Despite the relatively high level of trust in Petraeus' recommendations, most Americans suspect that his report will largely reflect what the Bush administration wants the public to believe about Iraq (53%), rather than believing it will be "an independent and objective report on the current situation in Iraq" (40%). A recently released ABC News/ Washington Post poll found a similar result, with 53% of Americans saying Petraeus' report will "try to make things look better than they really are," and 39% believing his report will "honestly reflect the situation in Iraq." It is unclear how much, if any, impact attempts by the Democratic Party's leadership to cast doubt on Petraeus' testimony have had on these attitudes. The Democrats have been referring to Petraeus' update as the "Bush report."

It is not surprising to find that opinions on this matter are highly partisan, with the vast majority of self-identified Democrats in the Gallup Poll expecting a political speech, and the vast majority of Republicans expecting an honest accounting of conditions in Iraq. Independents are more likely to believe the report will be political in nature rather than objective.

According to the Sept. 7-8 USA Today/Gallup poll, 32% of Americans believe the surge is making the situation in Iraq better, similar to what Gallup found last month, but a more favorable evaluation than earlier this year. The plurality of Americans, 44%, continue to believe the increased troop levels are not making any difference, and 19% say they are making things worse.

One in three Americans say they are now more confident that the United States will achieve its goals in Iraq as a result of the surge; 61% are not more confident.

Americans' Views on Iraq War Policy

Given the lack of confidence in the success of the surge to date, it is understandable that the majority of Americans, 60%, continue to favor a timetable for removing troops from Iraq, while 35% would rather see the United States keep a significant number of troops in Iraq until the situation there gets better. These results are in line with public opinion throughout this year.

American public opinion on troop levels is summarized in the accompanying table, which is based on combined results of three questions concerning what to do about troop levels in Iraq.

 

Americans' Views of Troop Levels in Iraq, Sept. 7-8 USA Today/Gallup Poll


 

%

Favor timetable for withdrawing troops

60

Favor rapid withdrawal, beginning immediately

(21)

Favor gradual withdrawal

(39)

No opinion on timetable speed

(*)

   

Oppose timetable for withdrawing troops

35

But believe U.S. can begin to reduce levels

(9)

Think U.S. should keep troop levels the same

(23)

No opinion on reduction of troops

(3)

   

No opinion on timetable vs. no timetable

5

   

* Less than 0.5%

Whereas the majority of the public favors a timetable for withdrawal, only about one in five Americans believe the United States should start that process immediately. The greatest number of Americans, 39%, favor a timetable calling for a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops. Those opposed to a timetable are more likely to favor maintaining troop levels for the time being over a reduction in forces. News reports have suggested that Petraeus would prefer to maintain troop levels, though it is believed he might go along with a proposal to have at least a small drawdown in troop levels early next year. In all, 23% of Americans oppose a timetable and prefer that troop levels be kept the same, while 9% oppose a timetable but think the United States is in a position to begin a reduction in troop levels.

The complexity of Iraq policy is underscored by the finding that even though Americans favor a timetable for withdrawal, they also believe the United States has "an obligation to establish a reasonable level of stability and security in Iraq before withdrawing all of its troops." Sixty-seven percent say this, while 29% disagree.

Petraeus' report is likely to focus on U.S. military efforts in Iraq, but most Americans (56%) believe the United States should do more to address the matter through the political process. Meanwhile, the public is largely divided in its views of whether the United States is adequately dealing with the situation from a military perspective.

Petraeus' report before Congress is a requirement from legislation passed earlier this year that provided continued funding for the war. That legislation also laid out a series of goals or benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet as a condition for continued economic and military aid from the United States. The poll finds Americans are dubious about the Iraqi government's ability to meet the goals and benchmarks the United States has laid out for it as a condition of receiving continued U.S. military and economic aid. Only 36% believe it is capable of meeting these goals. When asked whether they believe the Iraqi government is sincere about achieving the goals, only 38% of Americans say yes.

All told, only about one in five Americans can be considered optimists -- believing that the Iraqi government is both capable of achieving the goals and sincere about doing so. About two in five are pessimistic on both counts.

Among the other major findings of the poll:

  • A majority of Americans, 54%, continue to oppose the war, calling it a "mistake" for the United States to have sent troops. This percentage is slightly lower than what Gallup measured as recently as July, when opposition reached a high of 62%.
  • Only 32% of Americans believe the United States will "definitely" or "probably" win the war, while 62% believe the United States will not win.
  • Consistent with U.S. opinion since 2005, Americans are more likely to say the war has made the United States less safe (49%) rather than safer (40%) from terrorism.
  • About half of Americans (46%) say Congress is not doing enough to oversee Iraq policy, 26% say it is doing the right amount, and 22% say it is doing too much. Over the past year, during which partisan control of Congress shifted from the Republicans to the Democrats, Americans have become less likely to believe Congress is not doing enough (56% said this in September 2006), and more likely to believe it is doing too much (14%).

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,028 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 7-8, 2007. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 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.

27. In view of the developments since we first sent our troops to Iraq, do you think the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, or not?

 

Yes

No

No
opinion

%

%

%

2007 Sep 7-8

54

44

2

 

 

 

2007 Aug 3-5

57

42

2

2007 Jul 6-8

62

36

2

2007 Jun 1-3

56

40

4

2007 May 4-6

58

40

2

2007 Apr 13-15

57

41

2

2007 Mar 23-25

56

43

2

2007 Mar 2-4

59

39

2

2007 Feb 9-11

56

42

2

2007 Jan 12-14

58

41

2

2007 Jan 5-7

57

41

2

2006 Dec 8-10 ^

53

45

2

2006 Nov 2-5

55

40

5

2006 Oct 20-22

58

40

2

2006 Oct 6-8

56

40

4

2006 Sep 15-17

49

49

2

2006 Jul 28-30

54

45

2

2006 Jul 21-23

56

41

2

2006 Jun 23-25

55

43

1

2006 Jun 9-11

51

46

2

2006 Apr 7-9

57

42

1

2006 Mar 10-12 ^

57

42

1

2006 Feb 28-Mar 1

55

43

2

2006 Feb 9-12 ^

55

42

3

2006 Jan 20-22

51

46

3

2006 Jan 6-8 ^

50

47

3

2005 Dec 16-18

52

46

2

2005 Dec 9-11

48

50

2

2005 Nov 11-13 ^

54

45

1

2005 Oct 28-30

54

45

1

2005 Oct 21-23

49

49

2

2005 Sep 16-18

59

39

2

2005 Sep 8-11

53

46

1

2005 Aug 28-30

53

46

1

2005 Aug 5-7 ^

54

44

2

2005 Jul 22-24

46

53

1

2005 Jun 24-26

53

46

1

2005 Apr 29-May 1 ^

49

48

3

2005 Mar 18-20 ^

46

51

3

2005 Feb 25-27

47

51

2

2005 Feb 4-6

45

55

*

2005 Jan 14-16

52

47

1

2005 Jan 7-9

50

48

2

2004 Nov 19-21

47

51

2

2004 Oct 29-31 ^

44

52

4

2004 Oct 22-24

47

51

2

2004 Oct 14-16

47

52

1

2004 Oct 9-10 ^

46

53

1

2004 Oct 1-3

48

51

1

2004 Sep 24-26

42

55

3

2004 Sep 3-5 ^

38

57

5

2004 Aug 23-25 ^

48

50

2

2004 Jul 30-Aug 1

47

51

2

2004 Jul 19-21

50

47

3

2004 Jul 8-11

54

45

1

2004 Jun 21-23

54

44

2

2004 Jun 3-6

41

58

1

2004 May 7-9

44

54

2

2004 Apr 16-18

42

57

1

2004 Jan 12-15

42

56

2

2003 Nov 3-5

39

60

1

2003 Oct 6-8

40

59

1

2003 Jul 7-9

27

72

1

2003 Mar 24-25

23

75

2

* Less than 0.5%

^ Asked of a half sample

28. Which comes closer to your view about the war in Iraq -- [ROTATED: you think the U.S. will definitely win the war in Iraq, you think the U.S. will probably win the war in Iraq, you think the U.S. can win the war in Iraq, but you don't think it will win, (or) you do not think the U.S. can win the war in Iraq]?

 

Definitely
win

Probably
win

Can win,
but don't
think
will win

Do not
think it
can win

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Sep 7-8

13

19

23

39

5

 

 

 

 

 

2007 Jun 1-3

10

20

24

41

5

2007 Mar 2-4

11

17

20

46

6

2006 Dec 8-10 ^

14

21

25

36

3

2006 Jun 9-11

19

29

21

27

4

2006 Apr 7-9

20

19

21

36

4

2006 Feb 28-Mar 1

24

20

18

34

5

2005 Dec 16-18 ^

24

25

20

27

4

2005 Dec 9-11 ^

25

21

19

30

5

2005 Nov 11-13

23

23

17

33

4

2005 Sep 16-18

21

22

20

34

3

^ Asked of a half sample

29. If you had to choose, which do you think is better for the U.S. -- [ROTATED: to keep a significant number of troops in Iraq until the situation there gets better, even if that takes many years, (or) to set a timetable for removing troops from Iraq and to stick to that timetable regardless of what is going on in Iraq at the time]?

 

Keep troops in
Iraq until
situation
gets better

Set timetable
for removing
troops from Iraq

No
opinion

%

%

%

2007 Sep 7-8

35

60

5

 

 

 

2007 May 4-6

36

59

5

2007 Apr 13-15

38

57

4

2005 Jun 29-30

48

49

3

2005 Jun 24-26

44

51

5

30. Based on what you have heard or read about the recent surge of U.S. troops in Iraq, do you think the increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq is -- [ROTATED: making the situation there better, not making much difference, or is it making the situation there worse]?

 

Better

Not making
much
difference

Worse

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 Sep 7-8

32

44

19

5

 

 

 

 

2007 Aug 3-5

31

41

24

4

2007 Jul 6-8 ^

22

51

25

2

 

 

 

 

^ Asked of a half sample

Trends for Comparison : Based on what you have heard or read about the recent surge of U.S. troops in Baghdad, do you think the increase in the number of U.S. troops in Baghdad is -- [ROTATED: making the situation there better, not making much difference, or is it making the situation there worse]?

 

Better

Not making
much
difference

Worse

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 Jul 6-8 ^

17

49

30

3

2007 Apr 13-15

26

41

29

4

2007 Mar 23-25

29

43

22

5

^ Asked of a half sample

31. As a result of the surge of U.S. troops in Iraq, are you now more confident that the United States will accomplish its goals in Iraq in the long run, or not?

 

Yes, more
confident

No, not

No
opinion

2007 Sep 7-8

35%

61

5

32. (Asked of those who say it is better for the U.S. to keep a significant number of troops in Iraq until the situation there gets better)Do you think the United States is now in a position where it can reduce the number of troops it has in Iraq, or should the U.S. keep troop levels the same for the time being?

BASED ON 383 ADULTS who say it is better for the U.S. to keep a significant number of troops in Iraq until the situation there gets better (m oE: ±6 PCT. PTS.)

 

Yes, in a position
to reduce troops

No, should
keep troop
levels the same

No
opinion

2007 Sep 7-8

26%

67

7

33. (Asked of those who say it is better for the U.S. to set a time-table for removing troops from Iraq and stick to that timetable regardless of what is going on in Iraq at the time)Do you think the United States should withdraw all of its troops from Iraq as rapidly as possible, starting now, or should the U.S. set a timetable that calls for a more gradual withdrawal of troops from Iraq?

BASED ON 589 ADULTS who say it is better for the U.S. to set a time-table for removing troops from Iraq and stick to that timetable regardless of what is going on in Iraq at the time (m oE: ±4 PCT. PTS.)

 

Withdraw
troops
as soon as
possible

Set timetable
for gradual
withdrawal

No
opinion

2007 Sep 7-8

34%

65

1

34. Please tell me how much confidence you have in the recommendations of each of the following for what to do next in Iraq -- a great deal, a fair amount, only a little, or almost none. How about --[RANDOM ORDER]?

2007 Sep 7-8
(sorted by "great deal/fair amount")

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Almost
none

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq

27

36

15

11

12

The Joint Chiefs of Staff and other military leaders at the Pentagon

21

37

21

15

6

The Democrats in Congress

12

32

28

25

4

The Republicans in Congress

11

30

26

29

5

George W. Bush

16

22

17

43

1

Iraqi elected officials

4

23

27

38

8

35. Do you think the war with Iraq has made the U.S. safer -- or less safe -- from terrorism?

 

Safer

Less safe

NO CHANGE
(vol.)

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 Sep 7-8

40

49

10

1

 

 

 

 

2006 Oct 20-22

37

52

9

2

2006 Sep 15-17

41

48

8

3

2005 Aug 5-7 ^

34

57

6

3

2005 Jul 7-10 ^

40

54

5

1

2005 Jun 29-30

44

39

13

4

2005 Jun 24-26 ^

43

46

8

3

2004 Oct 1-3

47

45

5

3

2004 Jun 21-23

37

55

6

2

2004 Mar 5-7

50

37

10

3

2003 Dec 15-16 ^

56

33

9

2

2003 Nov 14-16

48

43

7

2

2003 Oct 24-26

45

43

10

2

2003 Apr 22-23

58

33

8

1

2003 Apr 10 †

51

37

9

3

(vol.) = Volunteered response

^ Based on a half sample

† Polls conducted entirely in one day, such as this one, are subject to additional error or bias not found in polls conducted over several days.

36. Do you think Congress -- [ROTATED: is doing too much to oversee U.S. policy in the war in Iraq, is doing the right amount, or do you think Congress is not doing enough to oversee U.S. policy in the war in Iraq]?

 

Too
much

Right
amount

Not
enough

No
opinion

2007 Sep 7-8

22%

26

46

6

 

 

 

 

2006 Sep 15-17

14%

22

56

7

37. Do you think the United States does -- or does not -- have an obligation to establish a reasonable level of stability and security in Iraq before withdrawing all of its troops?

 

Yes, does

No, does not

No opinion

2007 Sep 7-8

67%

29

4

Q.38-39 ROTATED

38. In dealing with the situation in Iraq, do you think the U.S. is -- [ROTATED: putting too much emphasis, the right amount, or not putting enough emphasis] -- on finding a military solution to the problems in Iraq?

           

 

Too
much

Right
amount

Not
enough

No
opinion

2007 Sep 7-8

33%

27

37

4

39. In dealing with the situation in Iraq, do you think the U.S. is -- [ROTATED: putting too much emphasis, the right amount, or not putting enough emphasis] -- on finding a political solution to the problems in Iraq?

 

Too
much

Right
amount

Not
enough

No
opinion

2007 Sep 7-8

17%

21

56

5

As you may know, the United States has set out a series of goals or benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet as a condition for the U.S. providing military and economic aid to Iraq.

Q.40-41 ROTATED

40. Do you think the Iraqi government is capable -- or not capable -- of achieving these goals?

 

Yes, is capable

No, not capable

No opinion

2007 Sep 7-8

36%

57

7

41. Do you think the Iraqi government is sincere -- or not sincere -- about achieving these goals?

 

Yes, is sincere

No, not sincere

No opinion

2007 Sep 7-8

38%

54

8

42. As you may know, this coming week, General David Petraeus is scheduled to report to Congress on the progress of U.S. military action in Iraq. Just your best guess, do you think General Petraeus' report will be -- [ROTATED: an independent and objective report on the current situation in Iraq, (or) a biased report that reflects what the Bush administration wants the public to believe about Iraq]?

 

Independent/
Objective report

Biased
report

No
opinion

2007 Sep 7-8

40%

53

7

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