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Americans' Biggest Concern About Iraq: Lives and Safety of Those Fighting There; Americans also concerned about path to withdrawal.

Byline: Frank Newport

Synopsis: President Bush's address to the nation will announce his plans for "the way forward" in Iraq. Recent Gallup polling indicates that Americans' greatest concern about Iraq is the high cost of the war in terms of the lives and safety of those fighting there. Americans' second concern is the need to find a way out of Iraq. Less than one-fifth of Americans are most concerned about the need to send more troops or finish the job in Iraq.

PRINCETON, NJ -- President George W. Bush will address the nation next week with a major speech on the situation in Iraq, announcing -- after weeks of study and consultation -- his plans for "the way forward" in that difficult situation. Given that the Iraq war is overwhelmingly considered by Americans to be the most important problem facing the country today, such a speech will no doubt be met by very receptive ears.

But how well the thrust and content of the speech will go over with the average American is not clear at this point. Addressing the public's concerns, White House press secretary Tony Snow recently said: "The president believes that in putting together a way forward he will be able to address a lot of the concerns that the American public has, the most important of which is, 'What is your plan for winning?'"

Is the development of a plan for winning in Iraq really Americans' most important concern regarding Iraq?

To answer that question, a late December Gallup Poll Panel survey asked Americans: "What is your biggest concern about the war in Iraq?"

The table below groups the responses into relatively homogenous categories for ease of interpretation.

As can be seen, it does not appear that the most important concern of the American public about the war in Iraq is developing a plan for winning, as Snow asserts.

Instead, the largest category of responses focuses on the costs of the war, or the lack of a rationale for being in the war to begin with. About one-third of Americans answer the question probing for their biggest concern about Iraq by saying that it is a concern for the lives and safety of the troops being asked to serve in Iraq. An additional ten percent say their biggest concern is the lack of a rationale for being in Iraq.

The second-most frequently occurring category of responses to the question focuses on concern about the issue of withdrawing from Iraq in what is typified as a "no-win" situation and/or the lack of a coherent exit strategy for disengaging from Iraq.

The third category in terms of frequency of responses, enunciated by less than one out of five Americans, is the closest to what was stated by Snow. This group says their top concern is that the U.S. not leave Iraq too early without finishing its mission in order to avoid leaving a "mess."

There are significant differences in these responses by the partisan orientation of the respondents.

Republicans clearly are more likely to echo the type of concern highlighted by Snow than are independents and Democrats. Sixteen percent of Republicans volunteer that their biggest concern is the need to send in more troops to finish the mission there, something President Bush is expected to announce next week. Independents and Democrats are much more concerned about the costs of the war and the difficulty of extracting U.S. forces from the situation there.

Bottom Line

By all accounts, in his speech to the nation next week, Bush will focus on the need to finish the mission in Iraq, including the possibility of increasing the number of American armed forces personnel stationed there. The data reviewed here, however, suggest that to the degree the president wants to address the concerns of the American people as a whole, he should first and foremost discuss the rationale for the high costs of the war in Iraq, particularly in terms of the lives of the men and women stationed there. The data suggest that Bush's second focus should be on plans for the way in which the U.S. can ultimately withdraw from Iraq. Previous research has shown that at this point the American public feels the costs of the war are not outweighed by the benefits. Thus, from the public's perspective, the president most urgently needs to convince Americans why the continued costs are justified if he at the same time is going to announce plans for a continued or expanded presence of U.S armed forces in that country.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,013 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 18-20, 2006. 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.
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Article Details
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Author:Newport, Frank
Publication:Gallup Poll News Service
Article Type:Survey
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 4, 2007
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