A new poll shows that 57 percent of Americans continue to believe that Saddam Hussein gave “substantial support” to al-Qaida terrorists before the war with Iraq, despite a lack of evidence of that relationship.
In addition, 45 percent of Americans have the impression that “clear evidence” was found that Iraq worked closely with Osama bin Laden’s network, and a majority believe that before the war Iraq either had weapons of mass destruction (38 percent) or a major program for developing them (22 percent).
There’s no known evidence to date that these statements are true.
U.S. weapons inspector David Kay testified before Congress in January that no weapons were found and prewar intelligence on Iraq was “almost all wrong.” CIA Director George Tenet last month rejected assertions by Vice President Dick Cheney that Iraq had cooperated with al-Qaida.
Despite that record, many Americans continue to believe that the threat from Iraqi weapons and its alleged links to terrorism justified the war. That conviction correlates closely with support for the war and President Bush, the poll released Thursday found.
For example, among those who say most experts agree that Iraq had banned weapons, 72 percent plan to vote for Bush.
The poll for the University of Maryland’s Program in International Policy Attitudes, conducted by Knowledge Networks from March 16 to 22, surveyed 1,311 adults and had a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.
Claims by the Bush administration about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and links to terrorism helped shape public perceptions, said Steven Kull, the director of the program. No cause-and-effect relationship between the beliefs and support for the president could be proved, however.
In the poll, roughly 4 in 10 Americans perceived the administration as saying it had clear evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction just before the war.
The administration has backed off earlier claims that evidence of such weapons was found, but the president continues to say the weapons question is open. “We all thought he had weapons,” Bush said Wednesday.
“We’re so polarized right now that people are seeing what they want to see through a very partisan lens,” said Thomas Mann, a political analyst and Brookings Institution scholar.
The PIPA poll did have several warning signs for the administration, as respondents have become more pessimistic about the prospects for success in Iraq.
The number of those who believed the year-old war would result in greater peace and stability in the Middle East has dropped from 56 percent in a Gallup poll in May 2003 to 40 percent last month in the PIPA poll.
And for the first time, a majority of Americans 51 percent said they thought that a majority of Iraqis wanted U.S. forces to leave. The survey was completed before the worst violence of the occupation erupted in April.
Posted to the Web by: Scott Fobes