Zarqawi Death Has Little Impact on Polls

Three major public opinion polls taken after last Wednesday’s news that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was taken out by a US airstrike show surprisingly little change. The public remains quite conflicted, showing signs of optimism despite a steady consensus that the war in Iraq was a mistake.

CNN emphasizes the latter: “ Poll: Most still think Iraq war a mistake.”

More Americans expressed optimism about the war in Iraq after the killing of terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, suggests a CNN poll released Monday, but a majority still believes the invasion was a mistake. The poll found 43 percent of respondents said the war is going either very or moderately well, up from 38 percent in a March poll.

Fifty-four percent said they still believe the war is going either very badly or moderately badly, down from 60 percent in March. And 55 percent said they believe the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was an error — a figure unchanged from an April survey.

CBS entitles their release “Poll: Zarqawi Death Has Little Impact

The death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has done little to improve views of how things are going for the U.S. in Iraq or boost President Bush’s approval ratings, a CBS News poll finds. Mr. Bush has been cautious in his response to Zarqawi’s killing by U.S. troops this week, calling it “a major blow to al Qaeda” but warning that it won’t end the war “and it’s certainly not going to end the violence.”

Americans agree. Half think the level of violence in Iraq will be unchanged by Zarqawi’s death, while 30 percent say it will actually lead to more attacks against U.S. forces. Just 16 percent think the number of attacks will decrease as a result of his death. Sixty-one percent also say Zarqawi’s death won’t have any impact on the terrorist threat against the United States, while 22 percent it will increase that threat. Thirteen percent predict a decreased risk of terrorism. Fifty-five percent of Americans still say the war in Iraq is going badly for the United States, while an overwhelming majority, 82 percent, describe the situation in Iraq as a civil war between Iraqis.

Still, the poll did find some signs that Americans are becoming more optimistic about Iraq — at least when looking at the long term. Sixty percent now say it’s somewhat likely or very likely that the United States will ultimately find success in Iraq, a 5-point jump since last month. More than half of Americans also say Iraq will eventually become a stable democracy, though it will take more than a year or two.

The outlier is USA Today/Gallup: “Poll sees a boost for Bush, Iraq war.”

In the wake of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s death, President Bush is seeing improvement in public confidence that the Iraq war is winnable, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows. The new poll found that 48% believe the United States probably or definitely will win the war, up from 39% in April. It also found that 47% believe things are going well in Iraq, up from 38% in March.

The survey, taken Friday to Sunday and released Monday, also showed Bush’s approval rating going up to 38% from 36% earlier this month and an all-time low of 31% in May. The poll news came as Bush and members of his Cabinet met at Camp David to discuss ways to help the recently formed government in Iraq.

“Good news makes people feel better,” says political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. “This is the first break the president has gotten in about 18 months.” Still, 51% say the war was a mistake. Rothenberg and other analysts cautioned that long-term public confidence will grow only if the death of Zarqawi is followed up by increasing Iraq’s stability. “Unless there is clear, sustainable progress in Iraq, these numbers will be just a brief blip,” says Ted Galen Carpenter, a foreign policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute think tank.

Of course 38% may or may not be an improvement from 36% given a margin of 3%.

Despite different emphases by their headline writers, these polls show similar trends. The only really gaping difference is USAT’s 48% believing the US will win vice 60% for CBS.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Iraq War, Public Opinion Polls, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. SgtFluffy says:

    I would like to see a poll one day, nay brazillions of polls asking the American people if the Media is relevant anymore and what their approval rating is.

  2. Steven Plunk says:

    It’s time to face the fact that polls take the pulse of an American people with mood swings. What’s the point? Does it do any good other than provide filler for news agencies?

  3. I wonder if this is because the idea that Iraq is going to be in the win column is already factored in (or ‘Iraq is a hopeless quagmire that we must exit from’ is a position impervious to facts or reality) or if the erosion of the presidential approval (which is certainly hurting most because of self identified GOP) is on other issues (immigration, Meirs, ports deal) that news on Iraq isn’t going to move.

    What it (and the Ohio and California special elections portend) may be less a general ‘throw the bums out’ by the GOP base and more of warning shots across their bow.

  4. McGehee says:

    What it (and the Ohio and California special elections portend) may be less a general �throw the bums out� by the GOP base and more of warning shots across their bow.

    Ssshhhhh! Don’t tip them off!