As Gulf War Began, The Public Rallied

By , G. Donald Ferree Jr. is associate director of the Institute for Social Inquiry and the Roper Center for Public Research at the University of Connecticut.

THE public endorsed Bush's view of the necessity of this war before it began, and is now even more in agreement with him over the need for war and the appropriateness of its aims. The two thirds who previously said we had done the right thing by sending troops to Saudi Arabia has now risen to seven in eight. A tracking survey conducted by the Institute for Social Inquiry at the University of Connecticut (starting on Jan. 12, with four days of polling before the outbreak of war, and three four-day periods beginning with Jan. 17) demonstrates increasing support for Administration policies, but builds on an already strong base.

Bush's job ratings were high going into the war, and have increased by about 10 or 15 points since, in absolute terms overall, for his handling of the Gulf crisis specifically, and in comparison with other recent presidents. Before the outbreak of hostilities, on third saw Mr. Bush as above the recent average. Now half do.

There has also been an increase in the confidence Connecticut residents show in America's role in the world. Before the fighting, a narrow majority (53 to 40 percent) felt our best times as a nation were still ahead; after the outbreak of war, this confidence increased to a 63 to 29 percent margin.

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Before the war, a good majority (58 to 35 percent) felt that Bush had done all he reasonably could to avoid war. After the fighting started, this increased to 72 to 24 percent. Only about one in six (15 percent) now say that economic sanctions would ultimately have worked to get Iraq out, down from 27 percent.

Compromise with the basic war aim of ``liberating Kuwait'' has never sat well, and does not now. A majority would accept negotiations so long as Iraq gets out of Kuwait, but fewer than one in 10 would accept a partial Iraqi withdrawal.

Optimism about the course of the war has increased. Before the war, most (56 percent) thought it was at least ``somewhat likely'' that ``American soldiers will be tied up for a long time without being able to win.'' Now, 94 percent say it is at least ``somewhat likely'' that the US and its allies will win (including 80 percent who see it as very likely).

Thus, the coming of the war was accompanied by some increase in pro-Administration attitudes, but this was very definitely against a backdrop of strong support before. War may not be popular in itself, but the public thinks this one was necessary; actual hostilities have not altered this perception.

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