Regional Issues >> Conflict With
Conflict With Iraq
Taking Military Action Against Iraq
A modest majority of Americans say they would support a ground
invasion of Iraq. A stronger majority supports taking "military
action" against Iraq, but this appears to reflect support
for more limited actions than invasion. Support is lower, often
dipping below half, when questions mention the possibility of
US casualties, Iraqi casualties and an extended troop deployment
Modest Support for Invasion
A modest majority expresses support for an invasion of Iraq--the
most likely scenario of any potential US military action against
The most frequently asked question has been from CNN/USA
Today, which has asked about "sending American ground
troops to the Persian Gulf in an attempt to remove Saddam
Hussein from power in Iraq." On September 20-22 57% said
they favored doing so, with 38% opposed. While this number
went up after September 11, 2001, it has gradually eroded
over 2002, dropping to 61% in June 2002 and dipping as low
as 53% in August. 
Other polls have found similar results. In a late-September
Newsweek poll, 50% favored "sending in large numbers
of U.S. ground troops to ensure control of the country"
while 42% were opposed. In mid-August, a CNN/Time poll found
51% support for "military action involving ground troops,"
with 40% opposed. In an early August 2002 ABC/Washington Post
poll, 57% favored a "US invasion of Iraq with ground
troops." In April 2002, a CNN/USA Today poll found 59%
in favor of "sending U.S. ground troops to invade Iraq."
Support is also fairly soft when it is specified that large
numbers of troops will be needed for an Iraq invasion. Twice
in the summer of 2002, NBC/Wall Street Journal polls asked:
Do you think that the United States should or should not
take military action against Iraq and Saddam Hussein if it
means committing as many as two hundred thousand American
In late July, 54% felt the US should take such military action,
while 31% felt it should not. In early June, only 41% favored
action and 40% opposed it. 
A solid majority feels that invading Iraq would be morally
justified. In an August CNN/ Time poll 65% said the US "would
be morally justified if it sends troops to Iraq to remove
Hussein from power." Only 26% did not think an attack
would be justified. 
Support for More Limited Military Action Higher
Polls that ask about taking "military action" show
somewhat higher levels of support - in most cases about two-thirds.
By comparing responses to questions that specify more clearly
what kind of action would be involved it appears that this
higher level of support is for more limited forms of action
such as air strikes or Special Forces operations.
ABC/Washington Post has asked about taking "military
action against Iraq to force Saddam Hussein form power."
On September 14 68% favored doing so. Support reached a high
of 78% in November and then went as low as 56% in August.
In response to similar questions, others have found support
ranging from 58-68%. When Fox News asked September 24-25,
58% supported such action--down from 66% at the beginning
of the month. Newsweek found 63% on September 26-27. CBS News
found support of 68% September 22-23. Pew found 64% September
Polls in mid-to-late August - prior to Bush's UN speech -
had shown support to be substantially lower. For example,
the ABC News question was more than ten points lower (56%),
and Newsweek was five points lower (62%). A Los Angeles Times
poll also showed support at 59%.
Even with the recent rebound in support, virtually all the
recent polls are lower than earlier highs. As mentioned, ABC/Washington
Post polls recorded 78% in favor in November 2001. Also a
Gallup poll found 74% support that same month; and Fox News
found 74% support in January 2002. Indeed, many of these polls
found support around the 70% level until early August 2002.
Similarly, In June 2002, a survey by the Chicago Council on
Foreign Relations found 75% favoring the "use of US troops
overthrow Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq." 
Support for "military action" appears to signify
support for actions less ambitious than invasion. This is
not only indicated by the fact that when invasion is specified
support is approximately 10 points lower; support is also
higher when more limited operations are specified. A late
September Newsweek poll found very strong majorities in favor
of the lighter alternatives of "sending in commandos
or Special Forces to capture Saddam Hussein or work with local
anti-Saddam forces" (72%) and "using air strikes
against Iraq without any troops on the ground" (67%).
However only 50% favored "sending in large numbers of
U.S. ground troops to ensure control of the country."
Similarly, in a March 2002 CNN/USA Today poll 67% favored
"military airstrikes but no US ground troops," while
just 46% favored "using US ground troops to invade Iraq."
Support Potentially Higher if Focus is on Disarmament
Some evidence suggests that support for military action would
be higher if the focus of US efforts was disarmament, rather
than regime change. A mid-September 2002 CNN/USA Today poll
found that although a majority (58%) supports sending US ground
troops to the Persian Gulf to "remove Saddam Hussein
from power," a more robust majority of 65% supports the
use of troops "to prevent Iraq from developing weapons
of mass destruction, but not necessarily to remove Saddam
Hussein from power." 
Also, if the US first seeks to achieve disarmament through
an inspection process and Iraq ultimately fails to cooperate,
support for taking military action would be higher (see "Disarmament
Potential for American Casualties
Certainly one major consideration with a large-scale ground
attack is the possibility of substantial US casualties. When
asked to suppose that large numbers of casualties would result
from an attack on Iraq, support for an invasion or for military
action declines by 11-20%.
This dynamic was found in a question on invasion. In the
August ABC/Washington Post poll in which 57% supported invasion,
those who favored it were then asked, "What if that caused
a significant number of U.S. military casualties?" Seventy
percent of the group continued to support an invasion, but
26% switched to an opposing stance. Thus, out of the total
sample, just 40% favored an invasion if there were substantial
US casualties, while a 51% majority was opposed.
The same was also found in questions on "military action."
In August 2002, a Fox News poll asked the 69% who favored
military action, "Would you support or oppose the military
action even if it means thousands of American soldiers' lives
would be lost?" Fifty-two percent of the total sample
continued to support military action (37% opposed). In April
2002, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll asked a similar set
of questions, and similarly, found a 16% decline in support
after asking supporters to assume "it would require a
major commitment of American ground forces with a possibility
of a significant number of casualties," leaving only
41% in favor of military action. 
A few polls have raised the issue of casualties in a stand-alone
question, rather than as a follow-up to a more general question.
In a September 2-5 CBS/New York Times poll, only half (50%)
supported "taking military action against Iraq"
when asked to suppose that "substantial U.S. military
casualties" would result from the fighting; 38% opposed
taking action in this case. This is compared to 68% who said,
in the same poll, that they would support military action.
However, on September 22-23 this gap narrowed, with 57% ready
to support military action even with substantial casualties,
as compared to the same 68% favoring military action.
In mid-September 2002, a Pew poll showed the public similarly
divided - 48% in favor and 36% opposed - over taking "military
action to end Saddam Hussein's rule, even if it meant that
US forces might suffer thousands of casualties." This
represents a slight increase in support from a Pew poll taken
prior to Bush's UN speech, when the public was divided - 42%
support and 41% opposed. In January 2002, there was fairly
firm majority support: 56% said they would favor military
action, even if there were thousands of casualties, while
only 31% were opposed. 
Even when posed a question that assumes military success in
"removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq," just
a modest majority (54-57%) said it would be "worth the
potential loss of American life and the other costs of attacking
Iraq," while 33-35% said it would not be worth it (CBS/New
York Times, September 2-5 and 22-23). 
Potential for Iraqi Casualties
Interestingly, Americans show a similar level of concern over
the possibility of large numbers of Iraqi civilian deaths.
When asked to suppose "U.S. military action in Iraq would
result in substantial Iraqi civilian casualties," support
also softened quite a bit. In that case, 49% would favor military
action, with 40% opposed - virtually identical to the results
obtained when asked to suppose "substantial US military
casualties" (CBS/New York Times, September 2001). 
Potential for Extended Troop Deployment
Finally, Americans are divided as to whether the US should
take action against Iraq if it would require - as is almost
certain - a long-term commitment of large numbers of forces
within the country. A September 2002 CBS/New York Times poll
found only a 49% plurality in favor of military action if
it "meant that the US would be involved in a war there
for months or even years." Forty-four percent were opposed,
given that scenario.
Additionally, a late August 2002 Gallup poll which found
a bare majority (53%) in favor of "sending ground troops
to the Persian Gulf" asked that group to suppose "that
meant the U.S. would have a significant number of ground troops
in combat situations for at least a year." Hearing that,
support for sending in troops dropped to 41%, with 51% opposed.