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Tuesday, March 25

Poll shows dramatic drop in assessment of war’s progress, but support remains

By Chuck Raasch | GNS

WASHINGTON - Support for the war in Iraq has remained constant at over 70 percent, but those who say the conflict is going very well has dropped nearly by half.

A poll released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press confirmed the most recent commentary on the war: that expectations may have been too high going in. Tough fighting over the first five days of the war has challenged pre-war predictions by TV analysts and military experts that Saddam Hussein’s regime would easily and quickly collapse.

Pew’s new poll showed that 71 percent of Americans felt the war was going very well on Friday, but that figure dropped to 38 percent on Monday. The new poll came after a weekend of heavy fighting, casualties, American POWs shown on Iraqi television and highly publicized - if isolated - cases of friendly fire that cost coalition lives.

"But there are no indications that declining optimism about progress in the war is affecting overall support for military action of President Bush’s handling of the conflict," said Pew Director Andrew Kohut.

In the new Pew poll, 72 percent said Bush had made the right decision to invade Iraq - the same percentage as last Friday, just after the war started.

Pew also found that public backlash against anti-war voices had risen. Over the first three days of the war, 37 percent said that they had heard too much from those who oppose the war, but 45 percent said so on Sunday and Monday. Only 14 percent said they’d heard too little from anti-war voices.

Bush’s overall job approval rating was 67 percent, with 26 percent disapproving.

People who identify themselves as liberal Democrats were by far the most negative on Bush and the war. Pew’s survey found that only 42 percent of liberal Democrats said it was the right decision, and only 33 gave Bush a positive job rating.

The Pentagon has been on the defensive as predictions that its "shock and awe" campaign would soon collapse Saddam’s regime. Each day of the war has brought a fresh re-examination of expectations and new defenses from Pentagon officials.

"I never talked about a time line" for the war, said Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a briefing Tuesday. "It is unknowable"

Asked if the Pentagon’s "shock and awe" bombing campaign had been overstated, Myers pointed out that American infantry divisions were outside Baghdad after covering more than 200 miles in four days.

"I don’t know if I would be shocked but I would certainly be concerned," Myers said of Iraq’s leadership in Baghdad. "And they will have a lot more to be concerned about shortly."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said "analysts say what they say" but asserted that Pentagon officials had "repeatedly" said they did not know how long the war would last.

"Days, weeks or months - don’t know," he said.

Pew polled 1,495 adults; its results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.