TIME/CNN Poll: Americans Standing By Bush's War

  • Share
  • Read Later
As George W. Bush heads into the second year of his presidency and the second 100 days of his war on terrorism, the White House promises the President will be turning his attentions to the home front. The idea, it seems, is to avoid the electoral pitfall that felled his father, whose stratospheric approval ratings after the Gulf War quickly succumbed to the impression he did not care enough about a U.S. economy mired in recession.

Will the sonís fate mirror his fatherís? According to a new TIME/CNN poll released Friday, this Bush has the wartime approval ratings — 82 percent, including 95 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats — but despite this fallís widely publicized economic doldrums, the domestic front may prove considerably less vulnerable for Bush II than it was for his father.

Asked how things were going in the country, 64 percent answered "very well" or "fairly well," up from 45 percent on Sept. 13 — and well over the 30 percent notched during Bush Iís term in late 1991. Despite the recession, 57 percent felt that economic conditions in the U.S. were "fairly good" (6 percent said "very good") and only 30 percent felt conditions were "poor." Some 45 percent expect economic conditions to get better in 12 monthsí time, and only 16 percent expect a further downturn. Compare that to November 1991 — when only 21 percent ventured a "fairly good," 53 percent said "poor," and only 26 percent thought things would improve; 45 percent expected more of the same.

But then, this is a different war, one that hits much closer to home for Americans — and they seem determined to be steadfast. Asked if the attacks of Sept. 11 made the country stronger or weaker, 87 percent said stronger. Some 88 percent said 2001 was a year in which "Americans learned what is really important to them in their lives," and 83 percent said it "brought the country closer together than it has ever been."

Resilience in the face of terrorism, however, isnít the same as optimism. With 76 percent insisting at yearís end that 2001 "changed everything forever," only 52 percent expected 2002 to be better (36 percent expected about the same). Asked about the likelihood of an act of terrorism occurring in the U.S. in 2002, 38 percent thought it was "very likely" and 43 percent said "somewhat likely." Only 27 percent had a "great deal" of confidence that the government could protect them from further attacks; 56 percent had a "fair amount." (Interestingly, in a Gallup poll conducted Sept. 14-15, 41 percent said "a great deal" and 47 percent went with "fair amount." Pessimists numbered about the same.)

And while Bush looks to turn his public energies toward Congress and his domestic agenda in 2002, Americans donít seem to be losing patience with his foreign agenda — no matter where it leads. Some 57 percent favor a "long-term war to defeat global terrorism" (32 percent want military action only against the specific groups responsible for Sept. 11). Some 73 percent think the U.S. should commit ground troops to a military effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power — if only the father had had those numbers — and 66 percent extend that license to "other countries that the Bush administration thinks are involved in international terrorism."

And they may even be getting used to the idea that Osama bin Laden may have slipped the noose — or at least giving up on the idea of Islamic terrorism as a one-man threat. If OBL is captured or killed, only 27 percent would feel "safer," while 65 percent would feel "as safe as currently feel." (A martyrdom-mindful 7 percent would feel "less safe.") And if the U.S. achieves "most of its goals" in Afghanistan but doesnít get OBL, 50 percent say they would still consider the military action "a victory." (Of course, 46 percent wouldnít, but thatís down from 61 percent when the question was asked Oct. 13.)

Ten years ago, Americans forgot about the Gulf War rout pretty quickly when faced with their own problems at home — but then again, that was a pretty quick war. This one — and the administration has not been shy about saying it — will be waged for a long time to come. The good news for the White House is that at least for now, Sept. 11 seems to have forged an America with the attention span to see it through.