Retaliation

by Frank Newport

Americans continue to be strongly behind retaliatory military actions

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ --

Key Summary Points

  • The vast majority of Americans support the general idea of military action against the groups or nations responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.
  • Support for retaliatory military action has remained at about the 90% level through the weekend of Sept. 21-22.
  • Given a choice, Americans are somewhat more in favor of a long-term war to defeat global terrorism networks than focusing on the specific terrorist groups responsible for the attacks.
  • More than eight out of 10 Americans favor direct military action in Afghanistan, and more than seven out of 10 favor direct military action in Iraq.
  • There is an apparent willingness on the part of Americans to wait until the perpetrators are identified, rather than rushing in with immediate strikes -- although about one out of five Americans say President Bush has not gone far enough in terms of the country's military response.
  • A strong majority of Americans support military action against those responsible for the terrorism even when Americans are explicitly advised of a series of possible consequences of such action.
  • Several polls show that there is strong support for conducting military action against the countries harboring the terrorists, as well as against the terrorists themselves.
  • More generally, it is clear that the American public has responded to the media and government focus on Osama bin Laden by indicating that it is highly probable that he is behind the attacks. More than eight out of 10 say it is very important to capture or kill bin Laden.
  • The inevitability of war seems apparent to the average American.
  • There is a growing confidence that those responsible for the attacks will be caught.

Details

The vast majority of Americans support the general idea of military action against the groups or nations responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. Support levels, in fact, are generally at or around an extraordinary 90% level. The most recent Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll, conducted Sept. 21-22, shows that 89% of Americans say they think the United States should take military action in retaliation for the Sept. 11 attacks. This is very little changed from the results of previous Gallup polls conducted since the night of the attacks. Most other polls have also found these extraordinarily high levels of support for a military response.

There is an apparent willingness, however, on the part of Americans to wait until the perpetrators are identified, rather than rushing in with immediate strikes. A Gallup poll conducted the weekend after the attacks asked respondents first about military action in general (88% were in favor). The poll then asked those who favored military action if they felt the United States should act immediately against all known terrorist organizations even if it was unclear who orchestrated the attacks, or if the United States should take a more restrained approach of waiting for those responsible to be identified -- even if it takes months -- before conducting military strikes against them. The results show that only 23% of Americans opt for conducting immediate military strikes. Sixty-two percent favor military strikes, but only after those responsible are identified. Another 10% say they don't favor military actions at all, with the rest undecided.

The same tendency for Americans to be willing to wait to act was found in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which offered respondents a list of five possible alternative actions. Support was lowest, although still in the majority, for an option described as "Launch immediate air strikes against the strongholds of terrorists who are believed to be the most likely responsible for these attacks." Similarly, a relatively low 54% in a Newsweek poll conducted Sept. 13-14 favored attacks against those suspected of terrorism "even if we're not sure they're responsible for what happened this week."

At the same time, the Sept. 21-22 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that about one out of five Americans thought President Bush had not "gone far enough" in terms of a military response. Fourteen percent of those interviewed in the same poll, however, thought that Bush had not gone far enough in terms of an economic or diplomatic response.

One of the most striking findings from the review of public opinion polling conducted since the attacks on Sept. 11 is the strong majority support for military action against those responsible for the terrorism even when Americans are explicitly advised of the various possible consequences of such action.

Several polls made it clear that military action could result in the beginning of a more protracted war, and support levels remained at the two-thirds level or higher. In the Sept. 14-15 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 86% supported military action if it lasted a period of several months, and a still-high 66% said that they would support the United States taking military action even if it would continue for a period of several years. An ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 69% of Americans support going to war even if it means "getting into a long war with large numbers of U.S. troops killed or injured." The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 83% support "even if it means risking further retaliation and the threat of war." In fact, the same NBC/WSJ poll showed that more Americans were worried about the United States under-reacting and not doing enough in response to the attacks than were worried about the United States overreacting and doing too much.

The Sept. 21-22 Gallup poll introduced the idea of a war that might cost the lives of 5,000 U.S. troops and 5,000 U.S. civilians. In each instance, about eight out of 10 respondents continued to say they would support the U.S. campaign against terrorism even with these consequences.

The Sept. 14-15 Gallup poll shows that Americans know such military action may result in increased terrorist attacks, but still favor it as the best alternative. Two questions -- each posed to a different half of the sample -- asked the public about perceptions of what would happen if the United States did institute military responses, and if it didn't institute military responses. Forty-three percent of Americans said that terrorist attacks might actually increase as a result of the U.S. military response, but an overwhelming 89% said that chances of terrorist attacks would increase if the United States didnottake military action against the terrorists.

A Newsweek poll found that seven out of 10 Americans supported U.S. military action even if it meant that there is a "high likelihood of civilian casualties." A CBS News/New York Times poll found support dropped when it was specified that "thousands of innocent civilians" would be killed, but even with this harsh consequence spelled out, 60% continued to support military action, with only 21% opposed, and another 19% saying that they didn't know.

Several polls show that there is strong support for conducting military action against the countries harboring the terrorists, as well as against the terrorists themselves. The Sept. 21-22 Gallup poll found that 82% supported direct military action against Afghanistan. Two-thirds of those interviewed in a CBS News/New York Times poll said they supported going to war against a nation harboring those responsible for the attacks. An ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that 85% support the United States attacking Afghanistan militarily if that country does not turn Osama bin Laden over to the United States.

More generally, it is clear that the American public has responded to the focus on Osama bin Laden. In the Sept. 14-15 Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll, 83% say he deserves a great deal of blame for the terrorist attacks, although 64% say Afghanistan deserves a great deal of blame, and 53% say fundamentalist Muslim leaders deserve a great deal of blame for the attacks. Gallup's most recent poll, conducted Sept. 21-22, shows that 85% say it is very important to capture or kill bin Laden.

A Los Angeles Times poll shows that seven out of 10 Americans say they would prefer to see military action taken against bin Laden and his group rather than see him brought to the United States in order to stand trial.

The inevitability of war seems apparent to the average American.On the Wednesday night after the attacks, a CBS News poll found that 55% thought the United States would go to war as a result of the attacks, and by Thursday night the ABC News/Washington Post poll, which asked a similar question, found that 66% thought war inevitable. By the time of the Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll conducted Sept. 14-15, 73% of Americans said that as far as they were concerned, the United States was already at war.

There is a growing confidence that those responsible for the attacks will be caught.Polling conducted the Tuesday night of the attack found that roughly half the American public was highly confident that those responsible for planning the attacks would be brought to justice. Another third or so were moderately confident, while only a handful were pessimistic about the prospect. By the Thursday after the attacks, the level of confidence had increased, to the point where 65% in the ABC News/Washington Post poll were "very confident" that the United States could find and punish those responsible for the attacks.

According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, most Americans expect those responsible for the attack to be caught within a month, including 18% who think they will be caught within a week. One in four say it will take several months to catch the terrorists, and 13% say it will take longer than that.

In a CBS News/New York Times poll, 62% said they were very confident that those responsible would be caught, and another 29% said they were somewhat confident.

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