Wednesday, June 4, 2003
PIPA is a joint program of the Center on Policy Attitudes (COPA) and the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM), School of Public Affairs, University of Maryland.

Strong Majority Continues to Approve of War With Iraq

But Only About Half Support Policy, Not Just President;
Only Half Confident Administration Was Not Being Misleading

A new nationwide PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll finds that 68% continue to approve of the decision to go to war with Iraq. President Bush gets high marks for his leadership, with 74% saying that he is showing strong leadership in dealing with the situation in Iraq. Fifty-eight percent believe that "as a result of having won the war with Iraq...President Bush a stronger position to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

At the same time, despite the success of the war, only about half say they approve of the decision itself, as opposed to supporting the President. Fifty-three percent said, "I support having gone to war, because I think it was the best thing for the US to do," while another 15% said, "I am not sure if going to war was the best thing to do, but I support Bush's decision, because he is the president." This represents no change from when Gallup, Pew and others asked this question during the war.

Also, only 50% said that they were somewhat (29%) or very (21%) certain that "when the US government presented the evidence to justify going to war with Iraq, it was "not being misleading." Another 5% said they were not very certain. Thirty percent said they were somewhat (19%) or very (11%) certain that the government was being misleading; another 9% said they were not very certain of this.

At this point, a majority of 57% say they believe that Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction at the beginning of the war, while 38% believe Iraq did not (18%), or are not sure (20%).

Among those who believe that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, 84% believe that the administration was being misleading, rather than assuming that the administration simply made a mistake. Even among those who are unsure about whether Iraq had such weapons, 56% believe that the administration was being misleading. This suggests that if weapons are not found, and Americans become less certain that Iraq had such weapons, the percentage saying that the administration was being misleading could well become a majority.

The poll was conducted with a nationwide sample of 1,265 respondents May 14-18. The margin of error was plus or minus 3-4%, depending on whether the question was administered to the whole sample or half the sample.

The poll was fielded by Knowledge Networks using its nationwide panel, which is randomly selected from the entire adult population and subsequently provided internet access. For more information about this methodology, go to

Funding for this research was provided by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Ford Foundation.

Many Americans Unaware WMD Have Not Been Found

Four in Ten Overall

Majority of Those Who Favored the War and
Republicans Who Follow International Affairs Very Closely

A striking finding in the new PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll is that many Americans are unaware that weapons of mass destruction have not been found in Iraq. While 59% of those polled correctly said the US has not found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, 41% said they believed that the US has found such weapons (34%) or were unsure (7%).

Steven Kull, director of PIPA, comments: "For some Americans, their desire to support the war may be leading them to screen out information that weapons of mass destruction have not been found. Given the intensive news coverage and high levels of public attention to the topic, this level of misinformation suggests that some Americans may be avoiding having an experience of cognitive dissonance."

"To some extent this misperception can be attributed to repeated headlines that there has been a promising lead in the effort to find evidence of such weapons' headlines that are not counterbalanced by prominent reporting that these leads have not been fruitful. But there is also reason to believe that this misperception may be unconsciously motivated, as the mistaken belief is substantially greater among those who favored the war."

Among those who approved of the decision to go to war and were not just supporting the president (53% of the sample), a majority of 52% said the US has found weapons of mass destruction (48%) or did not know (4%).

Among Republicans who said they follow international affairs very closely -- and thus may also be more exposed to headlines reporting promising leads -- an even larger percentage -- 55% --said weapons have been found, with just 45% saying they have not.

Another widespread misperception is that Iraq actually used chemical or biological weapons in the war. Twenty-two percent held this misperception, with 9% being unsure, while 69% correctly said that Iraq had not used such weapons. However, unlike the question of whether weapons have been found, there is no greater tendency to hold this belief among those who support the war, or are Republicans who follow international affairs closely, than there is in the general population.

The desire to reduce cognitive dissonance may also be skewing some Americans' memory of the government's rationale for going to war. Asked, "Thinking back to when the US government was making the case for going to war with Iraq, according to the government, what was the most important reason for going to war with Iraq?" 60% said "the evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction," and 19% said "the evidence that Iraq was working with the terrorist group al'Qaeda." But 20% said the most important reason was "the fact that Saddam Hussein was an oppressive dictator." Asked for the second most important reason, another 32% chose "the fact that Saddam Hussein was an oppressive dictator," while weapons of mass destruction were chosen by 24% and links to al'Qaeda by 42%.

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