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US Public Opinion High for President Bush, Campaign Against Terrorism - 2001-10-10

Public opinion polls indicate strong support for the U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan and also show a surge of public confidence for the way in which President Bush is handling the campaign against terrorism.

Several polls indicate that more than 90 percent of Americans approve of the military campaign against terrorism, in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington.

Comments from tourists waiting outside the U.S. Capitol to watch Congress in action tend to back up that polling data.

Dan Green, from North Carolina, says "well, I support it and I hope that they are successful. I think it is a very difficult effort but hopefully it will be successful."

The polls also indicate that Americans are committed to the campaign against terrorism, even if it results in U.S. military casualties, a view shared by Paula Sayag of Maryland. "We never want casualties and it would make me very sad," she says. "But I guess it is an inevitable part and if we don't do this part there are going to be many other casualties in another way."

Even those who oppose the military strikes acknowledge they are in a small minority. "Since 90 percent of the population in a poll is behind Bush, then we are going to just make things explode," says one college student from Ohio joined a few thousand protestors during a recent anti-war march in Washington. "I think the one thing we can all agree on here is peace. That we are all here gathered together for peace and that is the only message we need to send."

Public opinion experts have been impressed with the depth of support being expressed for the U.S. military strikes. Carroll Doherty, an editor for the Pew Research Center for People and the Press and a recent guest on VOA's Encounter program, says "the American public seems to be patient in its reaction to this event. I think there is a feeling that the president's message that this could take a long time, I think, is connecting. And I don't think people are either in a hurry right now or seem to feel that this will be wrapped up early or wrapped up quickly."

President Bush's approval ratings have also surged during the crisis, surpassing 90 percent in some polls.

Karlyn Bowman is a pollster with the American Enterprise Institute here in Washington. She says the president's soaring approval ratings are not surprising in the wake of the September 11 attacks. "We do tend to rally to our president at a time of trouble," she says. "But these particular incidents at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were of such magnitude that a lot of what we have seen in terms of the very high level of support that George W. Bush has right now is probably a result of the nature of these attacks on our own soil."

But the president may not find it easy to keep his poll ratings so high. The weakening U.S. economy and the possibility of American casualties in the campaign against terrorism could cause those numbers to slip in the months ahead.

Presidential historian Allan Lichtman says the current president can learn some important lessons from his father, who led the international coalition against Iraq in 1991. "I think the number one lesson is you need the world. What made the Gulf War successful in its own terms was the ability to put together a remarkable and enduring coalition," he says. "The second lesson though, maybe to finish what you are doing."

Another cautionary tale from the first Bush Administration is that high approval ratings can be fleeting. After the victory in the Gulf War in 1991, then-President Bush's favorable ratings approached 90 percent. But just one and a half years later, Mr. Bush was defeated in his bid for a second term by Bill Clinton, in large part because of voter dissatisfaction over the way in which he handled a slumping U.S. economy.