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Ashcroft’s Positive Rating Down 17 Points Since December 2001

Only a few survey organizations regularly track Attorney General John Ashcroft’s standing. In the latest Harris Interactive survey taken in August, 48 percent gave him a positive rating (“excellent” plus “good”) and 39 percent a negative one (“fair” plus “poor”). Ashcroft’s positive score is down 17 points since Harris first asked the question in December 2001. [IMGCAP(1)]

In the same period, President Bush’s positive rating has gone from 82 percent to 57 percent — a decline of 25 points. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s positive rating has dropped 20 points (75 percent to 55 percent). Secretary of State Colin Powell, the most popular person in this administration, has watched his positive rating take a 12-point drop, from 84 percent to 72 percent.

Twenty-one percent (up from 11 percent in June 2002) believe the Bush administration has gone too far in restricting people’s civil liberties to fight terrorism. Fifty-five percent said the administration’s efforts have been about right, and 19 percent said they haven’t gone far enough, according to a Gallup, CNN and USA Today poll taken Aug. 25-26.

Space Exploration. Americans’ enthusiasm about exploring the frontiers of space has survived serious setbacks.

After the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, 80 percent said they wanted the shuttle program continued. And in 1999, 56 percent of people questioned in a Gallup poll said the federal government should continue to fund efforts to send unmanned missions to Mars after that mission failed.

After the space shuttle Columbia disaster in February, 73 percent in a July Associated Press poll said the United States should continue to send humans into space; 24 percent said the country should not. In another question in the poll, 68 percent said the shuttle should continue to fly and 28 percent wanted it grounded. In the question, people were told that the “space shuttle program is more than 20 years old and experienced two accidents that killed the crew members of both shuttles.” Seventy-one percent said NASA was a good investment for the country.

Congress Through the Decades. Congress’ average approval rating in Gallup’s polls in the 1970s was 35 percent. In the 1980s, it was 36 percent. In 57 questions asked from 1990 to 1999, it was 35 percent. The strong economy of the late 1990s boosted the ratings of many institutions, including Congress. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, boosted them more. Thus far this decade, in 38 questions, the average approval rating for Congress has been 53 percent. Congress’ approval rating in the most recent Gallup poll is 45 percent.

Iraq: Are Americans Wavering? In the Aug. 21-22 poll by Princeton Survey Research Associates and Newsweek, 48 percent supported a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in response to the attacks on U.S. military personnel, and 47 percent were opposed.

An ABC News poll taken at about the same time (Aug. 20-24) found that most Americans remained committed to the mission. Sixty-nine percent said the United States should keep its military forces in Iraq until civil order is restored there, and 27 percent said the United States should withdraw its military forces to avoid further military casualties.

The Aug. 25-26 Gallup, CNN and USA Today poll found that 15 percent wanted to send more troops, 36 percent wanted to keep the number the same, 32 percent said some troops should be withdrawn, and 14 percent said to withdraw all.

The same PSRA/Newsweek poll that showed plurality support for a withdrawal also found that 60 percent were willing to keep troops there longer than a year (28 percent one to two years, 18 percent three to five, 3 percent six to 10, and 11 percent 10 years or more). Only 5 percent in this formulation wanted them brought home now. The poll also showed support (52 percent to 42 percent) for “more aggressive action by U.S. forces to stop the violence even if it means greater risk of civilian casualties.” What’s going on here?

The way the questions are worded and the general sense of things that people get from other questions in a poll affect responses. But many survey questions also tap deeply held sentiments about the conduct of war in general. Americans are always reluctant, for example, to put soldiers in harm’s way, so it is natural for them to express concern about mounting casualties. At the same time, they don’t shirk from using force, so they can also support “more aggressive action.”

Americans always expected the peace in Iraq to be more difficult than the war. They see the war in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism (57 percent in the new Gallup poll) and not as a separate military action (41 percent).

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