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Majority of Americans Say Get the Troops Out Now


The American public has abandoned President George W. Bush on the Iraq war and is looking to Congress for a way out that includes a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops, according to a Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll.

The national survey shows a disaffected public that has grown more sour about the conflict since September, with only about one in seven believing Bush's claim that the U.S. is winning in Iraq.

More than half of Americans want to set a schedule to withdraw all troops, a significant change from September, when 44 percent said the U.S. should stay as long as it takes. ``There is a new level of discontent'' over the war, said Susan Pinkus, the Times polling director. ``It's hurting the economy and it's hurting other issues. This is all the president can concentrate on.''

By better than 2-to-1 margins, the public supports two key recommendations of an independent bipartisan panel called the Iraq Study Group. The panel's report called for direct U.S. negotiations with Iran and Syria about the future of Iraq and possibly withholding economic and military support from the Iraqi government unless it makes progress on political reforms and national reconciliation.

With almost two-thirds saying Iraq is in a civil war, the public's top priority for the next Congress is setting a timetable for withdrawal. By 62 percent to 35 percent, Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of the war. The survey of 1,489 adults nationwide was taken December 8 through December 11 and has a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points.

Democratic Advantage

The administration has been unwilling to commit to carrying out the panel's recommendations, calling the report just one of a number of assessments it will use in developing a new strategy.

``I've detected nothing but defiance from the administration on how they want to respond,'' said Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican. ``I think that is very irresponsible,'' he said. ``What the American people think and want us to do should affect policy.''

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the president ``has been very clear'' that he has read the study group's report and ``is taking a serious look at its recommendations.''

By a 47 percent to 28 percent margin, Americans now think Democrats can do a better job of solving the country's problems than the president can. They also think Democrats are better able to handle Iraq, although by a narrower margin of 45 percent to 34 percent.

Democratic lawmakers are far from united on Iraq, with some, such as Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania, pressing for an immediate withdrawal and others, such as incoming House intelligence committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, saying the U.S. should add rather than cut troops.

New Policy Sought

The poll shows that the hunger for a new approach on Iraq crosses the usual lines of political division. For example, 39 percent of self-described conservatives and 29 percent of self- identified Republicans want a fixed timetable for withdrawal, a course that the Bush administration has rejected as likely only to embolden Iraqi insurgents.

``If there isn't a timetable, there's no encouragement for that government to be self-supportive,'' said Barbara Stauffer, a 49-year-old homemaker from Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, in a follow-up interview. ``They'll just depend on us for an unlimited amount of time,'' said Stauffer, a Republican. ``People will keep going over there and there will be more deaths.''

Similarly, the poll found that 48 percent of Republicans think the U.S. should talk directly with Iran and Syria, a course the administration has resisted.

Pessimism on Iraq

The poll was taken several days after the Iraq Study Group report was issued, giving the survey findings more credibility than an instant poll taken immediately after the report came out.

By most measures, Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the situation in Iraq, with only 15 percent saying the U.S. is winning the war, down 7 points from three months ago. A majority, or 56 percent, continues to say the situation there was not worth going to war over.

There is one bright spot for the president: Half of all Americans still believe his policies on terrorism and national security have made the country more secure over the past six years, compared to 26 percent who say they've made the country less secure.

The poll found that Democrats continue to bask in the glow of their November election victories as the public looks more to them than Bush for leadership next year.

Democratic Edge

Democrats have an advantage over Bush on issues ranging from immigration, by 13 percentage points, and taxes, by 9 points, to lowering drug prices, by 46 points. The only issue where the president leads is national security and the war on terror, on which the public gives him a 5-point edge -- and even that was down from a 13-point advantage in January.

Yet the public also wants both sides to work together. By the same 2-to-1 margin, Americans expect both the president and Democrats to make compromises.

``I'm just sick of the bickering between the two parties,'' said Steve Miller, a 58-year-old disabled construction worker and self-identified Republican who lives in Uvalda, Georgia.

Democrats agree. ``Nothing's been done in the last four years,'' said Joe McFadden, 75, a retired health-care administrator who lives in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. ``I expect them to compromise.''

The public is about evenly divided over whether Congress and the president will heed the call for an end to partisan squabbling, with 48 percent predicting Republicans and Democrats will work together and 46 percent forecasting gridlock.

Iraq High Priority

While 57 percent said they don't expect Bush to be able to accomplish much in his remaining two years in office, 67 percent said they think the Democrats will be able to achieve at least some of their goals.

The public's second-highest priority for Congress, after arranging for troop drawdowns in Iraq, is to work on providing universal health care coverage in the U.S.

Increasing the minimum wage also has strong support, with 77 percent of all respondents saying Congress should act on it, including 61 percent of Republicans.

Repeal of tax cuts for the wealthy and investors also is popular, according to the poll, with 56 percent of respondents favoring elimination of tax breaks for the highest-income earners. Americans are about evenly split over whether Congress should pass legislation to create a guest-worker program with a path to citizenship for foreign workers.

Gender Gap

The poll showed deep gender divisions on some issues, including Iraq. Fifty-eight percent of women supported setting a timetable for withdrawing troops, while 46 percent of men did so. Men were also more likely to be optimistic about the direction of the country, with 33 percent saying it was on the right track, compared to 25 percent of females.

While the public looks to Democrats for leadership on the issues, most Americans still aren't familiar with the party's congressional leadership.

Half of those polled said they haven't heard enough about incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to have an impression, and 65 percent said the same about Senator Harry Reid, who will be the Senate majority leader in January.

Twenty-seven percent had a favorable opinion of Pelosi and 21 percent an unfavorable one. For Reid, 21 percent were favorable and 12 percent unfavorable.

Bush's job approval rating was 42 percent, a 3-point decline from September.

A majority, 62 percent, continue to say the nation is on the wrong track, a perception influenced by pessimism about Iraq. That number is similar to the September poll.

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