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Support for Bush, war going back up

by Richard Benedetto, USA TODAY Friday, Dec. 12, 2003 at 5:25 AM

WASHINGTON ? Public support for the war in Iraq, on the downswing since establishing the peace there turned messy, has climbed back to its highest level since August, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll shows. (Related link: Poll results)

WASHINGTON ? Public support for the war in Iraq, on the downswing since establishing the peace there turned messy, has climbed back to its highest level since August, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll shows. (Related link: Poll results)

Political analysts suggest the positive impact from President Bush's surprise Thanksgiving Day trip to Iraq and a relatively low level of U.S. deaths over the past two weeks might be driving the rise. But they note that injuries to 61 U.S. soldiers Tuesday by two suicide bombers in Iraq might trigger reassessments.

"Thanksgiving looked like a happy reunion. The latest bombings jolt people back to reality," Democratic pollster Mark Mellman said.

Six in 10 approved of the decision to go to war and a similar six in 10 said the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over. Those are the highest levels of support since August, when attacks against U.S. troops began escalating and public support started to decline.

The poll was taken last weekend, little more than a week after the president's trip to Iraq, where he was cheered by troops and received extensive coverage in the news media. In the aftermath, the growing clamor to remove U.S. troops from Iraq has subsided. The poll found that 42% favored withdrawing some or all troops, the lowest level since a high of 57% favored withdrawals in October.

At the same time, Bush's overall job-approval rating rose to 55% from a pre-Thanksgiving 50%, which was equal to the lowest in his presidency.

"The Thanksgiving trip had a powerful effect," said Karlyn Bowman, a polling analyst for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank. "Seeing the troops' reaction to the president reminded Americans of their commitment and might have encouraged them to support him."

Bush also gained a slight nudge upward in his prospects for re-election. Overall, 48% of registered voters said they are likely to vote for him next year, and 41% said they will vote for an unnamed Democratic candidate. In late October, 46% preferred Bush to 43% for the anonymous Democrat.

Mark Rozell, a political scientist at Catholic University of America in Washington, said Democrats who criticized the president's Thanksgiving trip as a political stunt might have created a sympathy backlash. "Some people might be rallying around the president in a difficult time," he said.

Rozell added, however, that the gain would be only temporary unless the Iraq situation shows steady improvement.

In the poll, 79% of Americans said Bush's trip to Iraq was a good idea. Even two of three Democrats polled said it was a good idea. Also, 54% said Bush did it to show support for the troops, while 37% said he did it to gain political points.

But regardless of the rise in support, confidence that Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and weapons of mass destruction will be found continues to slip, as does confidence that attacks on U.S. troops can be stopped.

"People are getting used to the idea that this is going to be a long, hard slog," Bowman said.

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