Americans Consider Saddam Capture "Major Achievement," but War Support Unchanged

by Frank Newport

Most Americans say capture won't affect their vote for president

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Questions and answers about the impact of Saddam Hussein's capture on American public opinion, based on the results of a special instant-reaction CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted on Sunday, Dec. 14:

1. Do Americans view the capture of Saddam Hussein as a significant achievement?

Yes. More than 8 out of 10 Americans consider Hussein's capture to be a major achievement for the United States, and only 6% say that it is not an achievement at all:

As you may know, U.S. soldiers captured Saddam Hussein in Iraq early this morning. Do you consider finding Saddam Hussein to be a major achievement for the United States, a minor achievement, or not an achievement at all?

 


Major
achievement


Minor
achievement

Not an achievement
at all


No
opinion

2003 Dec 14

82%

11

6

1

2. Will the capture increase the public's overall support for the war in Iraq?

Not necessarily. Despite the public's willingness to agree that Hussein's capture is a major achievement for the United States, the Sunday poll shows no immediate evidence that there will be a substantial increase in the percentage of Americans who agree with the basic premise of the war.

It's important to note that support for the war had been steadily increasing in the weeks and months leading up to Sunday's capture of Hussein. The percentage of the public who felt that the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over had increased from 50% in September to 59% in the Dec. 5-7 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll. Sunday's special instant-reaction poll shows just a slight three-point increase, to 62%, well within the polls' margins of error.

All in all, do you think the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, or not?

 

Worth
going to war

Not worth
going to war

No
opinion

%

%

%

2003 Dec 14 ‡

62

33

5

2003 Dec 5-7

59

39

2

2003 Nov 14-16

56

42

2

2003 Nov 3-5 ^

54

44

2

2003 Oct 24-26

54

44

2

2003 Oct 6-8 ^

55

44

1

2003 Sep 19-21

50

48

2

2003 Sep 8-10

58

40

2

2003 Aug 25-26

63

35

2

2003 Jul 25-27

63

34

3

2003 Jul 18-20

63

35

2

2003 Jun 27-29

56

42

2

2003 Apr 14-16 †

73

23

4

2003 Apr 9 †‡

76

19

5

2003 Apr 7-8 †

67

30

3

2003 Mar 24-25 ^ †

68

29

3

2003 Jan 3-5 ^ †

53

42

5

^

Asked of a half sample.

WORDING: All in all, do you think the current situation in Iraq is worth going to war over, or not?

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.

At the same time, the percentage of Americans saying that the situation was not worth going to war over has dropped to 33%, which is the lowest on that measure since April of this year.

It's possible that some Americans were not yet fully aware of the capture of Hussein at the time of the interviewing on Sunday. Still, the very modest increase in the number of Americans who feel the war was worth it suggests that the long-term impact of Hussein's capture may not be as significant as some might think.

3. Will the capture increase Americans' confidence that outcomes such as the establishment of a democratic government in Iraq and finding weapons of mass destruction will occur?

The Sunday poll indicated an immediate, although not dramatic, increase in the confidence of the American public that several of these types of positive outcomes will be forthcoming. Compared to the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll of a week ago, the percentage of Americans who believe that weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq, that a stable government will be established there, and that the attacks against U.S. soldiers will be stopped all increased by 12-13 percentage points. (These questions, like the "worth going to war question" reviewed above, were asked in the Sunday poll before the respondents had been reminded of the capture of Hussein.)

The biggest increase came in the public's confidence that Osama bin Laden will be captured or killed. Perhaps heartened by the fact that the capture of such "leaders on the run" is possible, the percentage of Americans who are very or somewhat confident that bin Laden will be captured increased by 27 percentage points.

 

 

How Confident Are You That Each of the Following Outcomes Will Occur?

% "Very" and "Somewhat" Confident

Dec 14

Dec 5-7

Change
(in pct. pts.)

Find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq

54%

41%

+13

Establish a stable democratic government in Iraq

67%

54%

+13

Be able to stop the attacks against U.S. soldiers in Iraq

60%

48%

+12

Capture or kill Osama bin Laden

68%

41%

+27

4. Do Americans believe that capturing Hussein will have the impact of decreasing terrorist attacks on American troops within Iraq?

There are some signs in the Sunday poll that Americans believe the capture will reduce the attacks against U.S. soldiers, but almost no Americans -- 2% -- believe the attacks will stop altogether as a result of Hussein's imprisonment. Seven out of 10 Americans believe there will be at least a minor drop in American combat deaths, while about a quarter of Americans say there will not be a change at all.

Thinking about the attacks on U.S. troops currently stationed in Iraq, do you think the capture of Saddam Hussein will -- [ROTATED: put an end to U.S. combat deaths in Iraq, result in a major drop in the number of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq, result in a minor drop in the number of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq, (or) will not change the number of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq at all]?

 

 

An end to combat deaths

 

Major drop in combat deaths

 

Minor drop in combat deaths

Will not change number of combat deaths

 


No
opinion

2003 Dec 14

2%

29

41

26

2

Four out of 10 Americans believe that the United States will be able to bring its troops home from Iraq earlier than planned.

Do you think the capture of Saddam Hussein means the U.S. can bring its troops home from Iraq earlier than it had planned, or not?

 

Yes,
bring home earlier

No,
not earlier

No
opinion

2003 Dec 14

39%

58

3

5. How and when do Americans believe Hussein should be tried, and is there support for his receiving the death penalty?

Initial news reports on Sunday indicated that Iraq's Governing Council (appointed by the United States) has declared its intentions of being the judicial body that prosecutes Hussein for his years of reported murder and torture. The details of just how and when the former Iraqi leader will be tried are still being worked out, and there is the possibility that the judicial body will include at least some international presence.

The American public, reacting to three choices for the forthcoming trial of Hussein, is most in favor of what was described as an "international court, applying international laws and legal standards," preferred by 48% of those interviewed. About one-quarter of respondents chose each of the other two alternatives: an Iraqi court using Iraqi judges, or a U.S. military court or military tribunal.

If Saddam Hussein is put on trial, do you believe it should be a trial conducted -- in an Iraqi court using Iraqi judges, in an international court, applying international laws and legal standards, (or) in a U.S. military court, sometimes called a military tribunal]?

 

Iraqi
court

International court

U.S. military court

No
opinion

2003 Dec 14

25%

48

24

3

Six out of 10 Americans recommend the death penalty for Hussein if he is tried and found guilty, while almost all of the rest would settle for his having to spend life in prison with no chance of parole.

The views of the American public on the appropriateness of the death penalty for Hussein are little different from its views on the death penalty more generally. In May of this year, for example, 53% of Americans said in general they believe the death penalty is the better punishment for murder, while 34% opted for a "life imprisonment, with absolutely no possibility of parole" alternative -- remarkably similar to the results of the Sunday poll, which asked about the death penalty in this specific case:

If Saddam Hussein is tried and found guilty, which of these penalties do you think Saddam Hussein should be given -- [ROTATED: the death penalty, life in prison with no chance of parole, (or) a lesser sentence than life imprisonment]?

 

Death penalty

Life in prison

Lesser sentence

No
opinion

2003 Dec 14

59%

37

1

3

6. What are the implications of Hussein's capture for Election 2004?

Too soon to tell. There has already been a great deal of speculation about the possible impact of Sunday's events on President Bush's re-election chances, and the possibility that the capture may harm the position of the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, former Vt. Gov. Howard Dean, who has built a good deal of his campaign on criticism of the war in Iraq.

But, of course, it's much too early to begin to determine the long-term political implications of Sunday's events in Iraq on the 2004 presidential election on a strictly empirical basis. Public opinion surveys in the coming weeks will begin to give us a better feel for the implications of this capture on the political landscape, and indeed to answer the broad question of whether it will have any lasting impact at all. And, when the first Democratic votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses of Jan. 19, to be followed within 8 days by the New Hampshire primary and then the important set of Feb. 3 primaries, the impact on the Democratic race will become clearer still.

The Sunday CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll did include one basic question designed to tap into Americans' immediate feelings about the capture's impact on their potential vote for Bush in the forthcoming presidential election.

The results show that most Americans say the capture won't affect their vote: 45% of those interviewed said they were planning on voting for Bush even before the capture, while almost as many, 43% said they were planning not to vote for Bush and that the capture would not change their opinion. That leaves just 3% of Americans whose immediate reaction was to admit that they have become more likely to vote for Bush as a direct result of the capture of Hussein:

Which of the following comes closest to your view -- [ROTATED: you were planning to vote to re-elect President Bush even before the capture of Saddam Hussein, you were not planning to vote to re-elect President Bush before now but the capture makes it more likely that you will, or you were NOT planning to vote to re-elect President Bush and the capture of Saddam Hussein doesn't change your mind]?

 

Planning to vote to re-elect even before capture

Not planning to vote to re-elect, more likely now

Not planning to vote to
re-elect, mind not changed

 


NOT VOTE (vol.)

 


No
opinion

2003 Dec 14

45%

3

43

1

8

(vol.) Volunteered response

These types of "instant trends" do not necessarily predict the actual, long-term impact of an event, particularly because many of those interviewed had hardly had time to ponder the capture, much less its impact on their vote 11 months from now. But the fact that there is no immediate self-awareness of a change in position on Bush suggests the need for caution in assumptions that Sunday's events are going to recast the election in any substantial way.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 664 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 14, 2003. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±4 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. 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.

2. How confident are you that the U.S. will -- [RANDOM ORDER] -- very confident, somewhat confident, not too confident, or not confident at all?

A. Find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq

 


Very confident


Somewhat confident


Not too confident

Not confident
at all


No
opin-
ion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Dec 14 ^

24

30

25

19

2

2003 Dec 5-7

13

28

29

29

1

2003 Jul 25-27

21

31

26

20

2

2003 Jun 27-29

22

31

25

20

2

2003 Mar 29-30

52

32

10

5

1

^

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.

B. Establish a stable democratic government in Iraq

 


Very confident


Somewhat confident


Not too confident

Not confident
at all


No
opin-
ion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Dec 14 ^

27

40

20

11

2

2003 Dec 5-7

13

41

28

17

1

2003 Jul 25-27

13

45

26

15

1

2003 Jun 27-29

15

40

28

16

1

2003 Mar 29-30

20

45

22

12

1

^

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.

C. Be able to stop the attacks against U.S. soldiers in Iraq

 


Very confident


Somewhat confident


Not too confident

Not confident
at all


No
opin-
ion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Dec 14 ^

24

36

24

15

1

2003 Dec 5-7

12

36

27

24

1

2003 Jul 25-27

15

36

30

18

1

2003 Jun 27-29

18

37

26

18

1

^

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.

D. Capture or kill Osama bin Laden

 


Very confident


Somewhat confident


Not too confident

Not confident
at all


No
opin-
ion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Dec 14 †

31

37

20

9

3

2003 Dec 5-7

12

29

29

29

1

2001 Nov 2-4 ^

27

39

22

9

3

^

WORDING: How confident are you that each of the following will happen -- very confident, somewhat confident, not too confident, or not at all confident? How about -- The U.S. will capture or kill Osama bin Laden?

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.

As you may know, U.S. soldiers captured Saddam Hussein in Iraq early this morning.

3. Do you consider finding Saddam Hussein to be a major achievement for the United States, a minor achievement, or not an achievement at all?

 


Major
achievement


Minor
achievement

Not an achievement
at all


No opinion

2003 Dec 14

82%

11

6

1

TREND FOR COMPARISON

Do you consider finding and killing Uday and Qusay Hussein to be a major achievement for the United States, a minor achievement, or not an achievement at all?

 

Major achievement

Minor achievement

Not an achievement at all

No
opinion

2003 Jul 25-27

63%

25

11

1

4. Do you think the capture of Saddam Hussein means the U.S. can bring its troops home from Iraq earlier than it had planned, or not?

 

Yes,
bring home earlier

No,
not earlier

No
opinion

2003 Dec 14

39%

58

3

5. Thinking about the attacks on U.S. troops currently stationed in Iraq, do you think the capture of Saddam Hussein will -- [ROTATED: put an end to U.S. combat deaths in Iraq, result in a major drop in the number of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq, result in a minor drop in the number of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq, (or) will not change the number of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq at all]?

 

 

An end to combat deaths

 

Major drop in combat deaths

 

Minor drop in combat deaths

Will not change number of combat deaths

No opinion

2003 Dec 14

2%

29

41

26

2

6. If Saddam Hussein is put on trial, do you believe it should be a trial conducted -- [ROTATED: in an Iraqi court using Iraqi judges, in an international court, applying international laws and legal standards, (or) in a U.S. military court, sometimes called a military tribunal]?

 

Iraqi court

International court

U.S. military court

No opinion

2003 Dec 14

25%

48

24

3

7. If Saddam Hussein is tried and found guilty, which of these penalties do you think Saddam Hussein should be given -- [ROTATED: the death penalty, life in prison with no chance of parole, (or) a lesser sentence than life imprisonment]?

 

Death penalty

Life in prison

Lesser sentence

No
opinion

2003 Dec 14

59%

37

1

3

8. Which of the following comes closest to your view -- [ROTATED: you were planning to vote to re-elect President Bush even before the capture of Saddam Hussein, you were not planning to vote to re-elect President Bush before now but the capture makes it more likely that you will, or you were NOT planning to vote to re-elect President Bush and the capture of Saddam Hussein doesn't change your mind]?

 

Planning to vote to re-elect even before capture

Not planning to vote to re-elect, more likely now

Not planning to vote to
re-elect, not now

 


NOT VOTE (vol.)

 


No
opinion

2003 Dec 14

45%

3

43

1

8

(vol.) Volunteered response

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