Abuse photos spell bad news for Bush

Jim Lobe

The photographs of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers have had a major impact on public opinion in the United States, according to back-to-back national polls that also show continued erosion in support for President George W Bush and the war in Iraq.

A major poll released on Wednesday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that a whopping 76 per cent of the public has seen the photos, while a USA Today/CNN Gallup poll released on Tuesday found that 48 per cent of respondents believe the incidents depicted in the photos represented a “major setback” to the US mission in Iraq.

Analyses that accompanied both polls concluded that the photos appear to be directly linked to a sharp loss in support for the American occupation.

The poll released on Tuesday, which was conducted last weekend, found that 54 per cent of those interviewed now say going to war was “not worth it” — up from 47 per cent just one week ago, as the photos were first appearing in US media. The latest poll marked the first time that a majority has come to that conclusion.

Moreover, nearly half of those polled said they believe the US should withdraw

some or all of its troops from Iraq — a sharp rise of 10 percentage points since mid-May. Fifty-three per cent of Pew respondents said the US should not pull out until a stable government is established in Baghdad.

That was down from 63 per cent in January. In addition, the poll found a significant gender gap on the issue, with a plurality of women favouring withdrawal.

The Pew poll found that public assessments of the war have reached their lowest levels yet. Only 46 per cent describe the war as going well, the first time less than a majority has felt that the developments there were going at least “fairly well”. Conversely, for the first time, a majority described the war as going “not well”. More for Bush, 55 per cent of self-described political “independents” chose the “not well” option, compared to 26 per cent of Republicans and 67 per cent of Democrats.

Both surveys show that a majority of all respondents still believe that the decision to go to war was right, but that majority has shrunk from highs of nearly 80 per cent when US troops entered Baghdad to record lows of just 54 per cent in the Tuesday poll and 51 per cent in the Pew poll.

But the latter also suggested that the decline of support in swing constituencies has been particularly sharp, with only 48 per cent of independents now saying going to war was the correct decision.

While key elements of Bush’s political base — self-described Republicans and white evangelical Protestants — remain solidly behind the decision to go to war, support for the decision has dropped by more than a third among white Catholics and mainline Protestants, according to the analysis.

The poll results come amid considerable speculation about the course of the election campaign. Democrats have become increasingly concerned that Bush’s standing in the polls has not fallen vis-à-vis his presumptive Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, despite the tide of bad news coming out of Iraq.

In most polls, the lead in the race has see-sawed between the two men with Kerry, who has maintained a fairly low profile on Iraq since the scandal first surfaced, seemingly unable to establish a decisive lead.

Nonetheless, two prominent pollsters, Andrew Kohut and John Zogby, have suggested that the public is far more focused on Bush than on Kerry. — IPS