Americans Harbor Divergent Opinions on June 30 Transfer

Posted May 11, 2004 at 3:48pm

Whither June 30? When it comes to gauging public opinion on whether the United States should hand over control of Iraq to a new Iraqi leadership less than two months from now, Americans seem to be of two minds. [IMGCAP(1)]

A mid-April ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 63 percent thought the United States should proceed with the transfer of power, while 31 percent said we should hold off. A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in early May finds that 66 percent agree that the United States should meet the June 30 deadline of handing governing power over, whereas 22 percent said the United States should not.

But introducing the fate of American troops after a handover into the question changes the answer significantly. A Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll taken in mid-April found that 61 percent said the United States should keep its troops in Iraq well beyond June 30 to make sure the new government succeeds, but 35 percent said the United States will have fulfilled its obligation June 30 and should remove its troops shortly after that.

Here is a sampling of other recent survey findings:

The 9/11 Commission. At least for now, there is no indication that the 9/11 commission hearings have had much of an impact on public opinion. A CBS/New York Times poll in late April echoes what other polls have shown — that roughly equal numbers, around 75 percent, believe the Bush and Clinton administrations were not paying enough attention to terrorism prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In a late-April question for Fox News/Opinion Dynamics, 29 percent said the 9/11 commission was an important bipartisan panel, whereas 40 percent said it could have been useful, but it had become a partisan joke, and another 16 percent said it was always a partisan joke. Pluralities of Republicans and Democrats said the commission could have been useful but had become a joke.

An early May NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 36 percent believed the commission had been fairly objective, but 43 percent said it was too partisan.

The Patriot Act. In June 2002, 11 percent told Gallup the Bush administration had gone too far in restricting civil liberties to fight terrorism, while 60 percent said the administration had been about right, and 25 percent said the administration had gone too far. In August 2003, the responses were 21 percent, 55 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

In a question asked about the Patriot Act in February 2004, 26 percent said the act goes too far in restricting people’s civil liberties, 43 said it was about right, and 21 percent said it didn’t go far enough.

The findings also indicate that most people still aren’t familiar with Patriot Act. In the late April CBS News/New York Times poll, 52 percent of those who were aware of the act (which amounted to only 39 percent of those polled) considered it a necessary tool that helps the government find terrorists, while 42 percent said it goes too far and poses a threat to civil liberties.

Abortion as a Voting Issue. Last fall, 50 percent of respondents told Gallup that Bush wanted to ban all abortions and 37 percent said he did not. Fifty-eight percent of those who thought Bush wanted to ban all abortions said it would have no effect on their vote. Of the remainder, 17 percent said it would make them more likely to vote for him, and 23 percent less likely.

Abortion is not a high priority for voters. If past elections are a guide, those who say it is the most important issue to them in casting their vote will vote for the Republican presidential candidate. In the 2000 national Los Angeles Times exit poll, 14 percent said abortion was one of their top two issues. They voted for Bush over Gore, 58 percent to 41 percent.

Brown v. Board of Education. In 1954, 54 percent told the Gallup Organization that they approved of the Supreme Court decision ruling racial integration of the schools illegal, while 41 percent did not. Only 24 percent of those in the South approved. In another Gallup question, 54 percent of whites said they would object to having their children attend a school where the majority of pupils were — in the terminology of the time — Negroes.

Fast-forward 50 years. An April Associated Press/Ipsos Public Affairs poll found that 72 percent — up from only four in 10 in 1971 — said that school integration has improved the quality of education received by black students. In the same poll, 83 percent said they preferred a mixed-race school for their children.

At the same time, however, 78 percent said it was better to let students go to the local school in their community even if it means most of the students would be of the same race. Only 19 percent thought transferring students who then have to travel out of their neighborhoods was better.

Tax Returns and Spouses. Fifty-eight percent in an April 21-22 Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll said that spouses of presidential candidates should release their tax returns, with 34 percent saying they should not. Partisan affiliation mattered somewhat: 57 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of Independents favored release.

Karlyn Bowman is a resident fellow specializing in public opinion and polls at the American Enterprise Institute.