The latest poll of Texans shows declining support for the invasion of Iraq and not a small amount of cognitive dissonance.
In what analysts called the most striking finding, 58 percent disapproved of the way the war is going for the United States, reflecting apparent concern over continued attacks on U.S. troops and almost daily bombings aimed at derailing attempts to stabilize the country. Thirty-eight percent approved.
While 59 percent of those surveyed believe that Bush was justified in launching the war on March 20, the finding reflects a 13 percent drop over the past nine months. Other survey categories also suggest that support is waning for the president's Iraq policy since the last poll in June.
"What we saw in the poll is declining support for the war in Iraq," said Ty Meighan, director of the Texas Poll. "It's still a high number, but you can see that there is less support for the war. It's very clear that Texans are more concerned about our role in Iraq."
The survey showed growing skepticism over Bush's central justification for launching the war -- ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. In the June survey, 56 percent predicted that the weapons would eventually be found, but only 34 percent made that prediction in the latest poll.
But, at the same time, 60 percent disagreed that Bush deliberately misled the country. Moreover, an identical percentage believe the war was justified even if weapons of mass destruction are never found, and 66 percent said that Iraq, under Saddam Hussein's regime, posed a threat to the United States.
"I would love for them to find the weapons -- so President Bush could thumb his nose at them [Democratic critics]," said Paula Pruitt, a 51-year-old grandmother in Mansfield, who was among the 1,000 Texans polled in the survey, which was conducted Feb. 12-March 3. "But whether they find them or not," she added, the invasion was necessary to "keep a person like Saddam Hussein from killing and torturing people."
Here's a handy chart of the poll results, sent to me by JD from NationalJournal.com:
The Scripps Howard Texas Poll; conducted 2/12-3/3; surveyed 1,000
adults; margin of error +/- 3%.
How Would You Rate The Way Things Are Going For The U.S. In Iraq?
Was The Situation In Iraq Was Worth Going To War? 59% 35%
Think Inspectors Will Find WMDs In Iraq? 34 55
Is The Iraq War Justified Even If WMDs Are Never Found? 60 35
Think Bush And His Admin Deliberately Mislead The Public
About Whether Iraq Had WMDs? 33 60
Did Iraq Pose A Threat To The U.S.? 66 30
Believe The Capture Of Hussein Has Made The U.S. Safer
From Terrorism? 50 46
That assessment [of how things are going in Iraq] was largely split along political party lines. Sixty-two percent of the respondents who identified themselves as Republicans rated the progress "excellent" or "good," while 82 percent of those who identified themselves as Democrats described it as "fair" or "poor." The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The much-anticipated capture of Saddam in December led Bush to proclaim that the United States is now safer from terrorism, an assertion with which only half of Texans agree, the poll found.
That belief is also sharply split along political party lines, Meighan said.
Seventy-five percent of respondents identifying themselves as Republicans agreed with the president, while 66 percent of the Democrat respondents disagreed.
National surveys suggest that wavering public support for the war could become a major vulnerability for Bush as he charges into his re-election campaign against Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic nominee. Disenchantment over the war was cited as the biggest source of voter anger at Bush in a recent Gallup survey.
Although the former Texas governor is considered unbeatable in his home state, analysts say a noticeable decline in support for the war could prompt Kerry to campaign more aggressively in Texas. Bruce Buchanan, a presidential scholar at the University of Texas, said the Texas Poll's finding that only 38 percent of Texans approve of the way the war is going constitutes a particularly troubling statistic from the Bush perspective.
"The South, including Texas, is sympathetic to the president's role as commander in chief, and that's what makes this number so surprising," Buchanan said.