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January 26, 2005

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Monday, July 28

Public confident Saddam will be killed or captured, poll says

By Richard Benedetto | GNS

WASHINGTON - Public confidence that Saddam Hussein will be killed or captured jumped dramatically since his sons were slain last week. But the rising death toll of American troops continues to be a worry, a new USA TODAY-CNN-Gallup Poll shows.

The poll, taken Friday to Sunday, suggests that news of the deaths of Odai and Qusai Hussein stemmed, at least temporarily, the erosion of Bush's standing in the polls, which have declined since the aftermath of the war in Iraq turned messy.

Approval for Bush's handling of Iraq edged up from 57 percent to 60 percent in the past week. And confidence that Saddam would be killed or captured soared from 48 percent to 68 percent - a 20 percentage point gain in a week. Bush's overall job approval is 58 percent, virtually no change from a week ago when it was at 59 percent.

Also, 63 percent say the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, even in the face of critical voices growing louder. Opposition also held steady at 34 percent - about one in three.

Half of those who say the war was not worth fighting are Democrats.

But those who say things in Iraq are going well for the United States inched slightly upward from 54 percent to 56 percent.

``Killing the sons has been a big plus for the president. If Saddam is captured or killed, it will provide a major boost for him,'' said Merle Black, an Emory University political scientist.

But the poll of 1,006 adults also contains some cautionary findings:

- Confidence that attacks on American troops in Iraq can be stopped fell from 55 percent to 51 percent in the past week, as the death toll continued to rise even after Saddam's sons were killed.

- About one in three surveyed said U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Iraq if the death toll became too high. Most of them defined as ``too high'' 500 deaths or more.

So far, 164 American troops have been killed in hostile action since fighting began there in March - 50 killed in the nearly three months since Bush declared major combat over.

``There's the rub. If the attacks continue over a significant period of time, public support could erode and create political problems for Bush,'' said Mark Rozell, a political scientist at The Catholic University of America.

The recent positive news from Iraq also seemed to boost Bush's re-election prospects.

In a hypothetical matchup between the Republican president and an unnamed Democratic candidate, registered voters gave Bush a 49 percent to 40 percent edge.

A week ago, Bush led more narrowly, 46 percent to 42 percent.

The Friday-Sunday poll has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The election question has an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.