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RESPONSE TO TERROR | THE TIMES POLL

Americans Unified in Support for Bush, War

November 15, 2001|RONALD BROWNSTEIN | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

WASHINGTON — Two months into the war against terrorism, Americans continue to display a level of unity, optimism and confidence in the nation's leadership rarely seen in the last 40 years, a Times Poll has found.

Even amid anxiety over the economy, Americans express overwhelming approval of President Bush's job performance, broad satisfaction with the country's direction and enormous confidence in the military's capacity to achieve its goals in Afghanistan, the poll found.

Perhaps most striking, the poll shows that Bush has made rapid progress erasing doubts about his experience and skills that rippled through the electorate virtually until the moment the World Trade Center towers fell in New York.

Most Americans, including a solid majority of Democrats, now say Bush has proved to be a stronger leader than they expected.

"I think he's risen to the challenge," said Tom Martinson, a Democrat and college professor in Auburn, Ala., who responded to the survey. "He's done about everything that a person can do in his position . . . to help us resolve this issue."

One of the few sources of contention found by the survey concerns the performance of the news media during wartime.

Americans only split evenly when asked if the press has been responsible or irresponsible in its reporting about the war in Afghanistan and the threat of anthrax at home.

"In a lot of ways, I think they are very irresponsible," said Edward Marshall, a retired teacher living in a Milwaukee suburb. "I think they just publish too much delicate information. . . . That's aiding and abetting the enemy as far as I am concerned. Those people read the papers."

The Times Poll, supervised by polling director Susan Pinkus, interviewed 1,995 adults nationwide Nov. 10 to 13. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

On almost any issue related to the terrorist threat, the survey found a striking consistency of opinion across the fissures of race, gender, partisanship and ideology that usually separate U.S. attitudes. Republicans, not surprisingly, most strongly supported Bush and his efforts. But to a remarkable degree, independents and even Democrats are nipping at their heels on the central issues.

Consider the bedrock question of support for the military campaign in Afghanistan. Overall, 87% of Americans say they support the effort. That rises to a remarkable 95% of Republicans, but more than 8 in 10 Democrats and independents also back the war.

Women traditionally have been noticeably cooler than men toward the deployment of U.S. troops abroad. Not this time: 85% of women, compared with 89% of men, say they endorse the war.

"Things are looking good," said Edith Williams, a retired fast-food worker in Richmond, Va. Taliban forces "are fleeing the country, and [some Afghans] are shaving off their beards and they are dancing in the streets. It looks like something good is going on."

Similarly, 93% of women and 94% of men express confidence, though men are slightly more likely to say they have "a lot" of confidence. Even 9 in 10 Democrats are confident.

Americans consider it a greater challenge to capture terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. A still substantial three-fourths express at least some confidence he can be found, but only about 35% say they are very optimistic.

Americans clearly appear prepared for a long haul in this new struggle. More than three-fourths say they would support the war in Afghanistan for as long as it takes. Nearly three-fourths say they would support the campaign even if it produces "a substantial number of casualties among American troops," although in practice, significant casualties have bled support for earlier U.S. military interventions.

Consensus is almost as complete when Americans are asked to assess Bush's performance. The public approves of his overall job performance by a margin of 86% to 10%, the highest presidential job approval rating ever recorded in a Times Poll. (The Times survey extends back to Jimmy Carter's presidency 20 years ago.)

Among Republicans, Bush is approaching what legislators call unanimous consent, with 97% approving and just 1% disapproving. Democrats, meanwhile, approve of his performance by a greater than 4-to-1 ratio.

The same pattern is evident when Americans are asked their verdict on Bush's handling of the war. More than 4 in 5 give him positive marks, with three-fourths of Democrats joining that assessment.

"He's doing an excellent job," said Alfreda Rucker, a Detroit housewife and Democrat who voted for Al Gore last year. "He impressed me when he said he was out to get Bin Laden dead or alive."

Even when asked about Bush's response to the anthrax threat, on which the administration has faced criticism in Washington for initially appearing to downplay the danger, nearly four-fifths of Americans give the president positive grades.

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