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Sunday, March 30

Few signs of erosion in war support despite casualties, cost

By Richard Benedetto | GNS

WASHINGTON Most Americans see the war in Iraq tied to national security and remain supportive of U.S. military action there regardless of reports that the fighting is bloodier, costlier and more difficult than planned.

A Saturday-Sunday USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup poll shows few signs of erosion in American support for the war or confidence in victory, although the public's expectations for a shorter, neater conflict with fewer casualties have been tempered by the reality of actual combat.

Overall, 70 percent favor the war, virtually no change from the past week even as news reports on the campaign's progress became more and more negative, and as speculation arose that Pentagon planners might have underestimated the enemy's ability and resolve to fight.

Similarly, seven of 10 say the war is morally justified, a U.S. victory is certain and the war is going according to plan, despite critics who say it is not.

``I'm not surprised by the setbacks. War is always difficult,'' said Julie Kuenzel, 25, a dental worker in Andover, Minn.

At the same time, opposition to the war holds fairly steady at about one in four, with little sign of gaining as anti-war demonstrations continue at home and abroad.

``They can make a lot of noise and disrupt traffic, but in terms of changing overall public opinion, those tactics don't seem to be working,'' said Mark Rozell, a Catholic University of America political scientist. About two-thirds of those polled expect the war to last from one to six months, with most estimating American troop deaths will range between 200 and 500. Both are upward adjustments from polling shortly after the war began, when reports of progress were more upbeat.

Also, 34 percent say the war is going very well, down sharply from 53percent in the early days. And 85 percent expect that the battle to take Baghdad will be difficult, further suggesting that Americans have few illusions about the task still ahead of U.S. forces.

``Our government started out talking big, but they assumed too much,'' said Joe Layman, 30, a financial worker in Charlotte, N.C.

However, 88 percent of Americans do not believe U.S. forces are being reckless with the lives of Iraqi civilians as they wage war, a charge made by anti-war groups and the Iraqi government.

In the face of battlefield difficulties, a majority of poll respondents remains confident the war will remove Saddam Hussein from power, make the United States safer from terrorism and uncover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Americans are less confident that Saddam will be captured or killed, or that a democratic government will be established in Iraq.

Unlike the Vietnam War, where only 49 percent of the American people said in the early going that they had a clear idea of what we were fighting for, 81 percent now say they have a clear idea of why we are at war in Iraq.

And more than eight of 10 say the goals set by President Bush freeing the Iraqi people, ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and making the United States safer from terrorism are goals worth fighting for.

``We're fighting this war for our national security and for the security of the world. We also want to help free the Iraqi people. There are difficulties, but they are to be expected,'' said John Wiley, 44, a Brockport, Ill., truck driver.

Analysts suggest that giving citizens a clear idea of why a war is being waged is essential to maintaining strong public backing. They note that public support drained from the Vietnam conflict after fighting bogged down, casualties rose and little progress was apparent. Many began to ask, ``Why are we in Vietnam?''

``The Bush administration has done a masterful job of convincing the American people that this war is about their personal security. As long as they remain convinced of that, they will give this war time to play out,'' said Shirley Anne Warshaw, a political scientist at Gettysburg College.

The Saturday-Sunday poll of 1,012 adults has an error margin of +/- 3 percentage points.