WASHINGTON – A new poll shows that 57 percent of Americanscontinue to believe that Saddam Hussein gave “substantial support”to al-Qaida terrorists before the war with Iraq, despite a lack ofevidence of that relationship.
In addition, 45 percent of Americans have the impression that”clear evidence” was found that Iraq worked closely with Osama binLaden’s network, and a majority believe that before the war Iraqeither had weapons of mass destruction (38 percent) or a majorprogram for developing them (22 percent).
There’s no known evidence to date that these statements aretrue.
U.S. weapons inspector David Kay testified before Congress inJanuary that no weapons were found and prewar intelligence on Iraqwas “almost all wrong.” CIA Director George Tenet last monthrejected assertions by Vice President Dick Cheney that Iraq hadcooperated with al-Qaida.
Despite that record, many Americans continue to believe that thethreat from Iraqi weapons and its alleged links to terrorismjustified the war. That conviction correlates closely with supportfor the war and President Bush, the poll released Thursdayfound.
For example, among those who say most experts agree that Iraqhad banned weapons, 72 percent plan to vote for Bush.
The poll for the University of Maryland’s Program inInternational Policy Attitudes, conducted by Knowledge Networksfrom March 16 to 22, surveyed 1,311 adults and had a margin oferror of 2.8 percentage points.
Claims by the Bush administration about weapons of massdestruction in Iraq and links to terrorism helped shape publicperceptions, said Steven Kull, the director of the program. Nocause-and-effect relationship between the beliefs and support forthe president could be proved, however.
In the poll, roughly 4 in 10 Americans perceived theadministration as saying it had clear evidence that Iraq possessedweapons of mass destruction just before the war.
The administration has backed off earlier claims that evidenceof such weapons was found, but the president continues to say theweapons question is open. “We all thought he had weapons,” Bushsaid Wednesday.
“We’re so polarized right now that people are seeing what theywant to see through a very partisan lens,” said Thomas Mann, apolitical analyst and Brookings Institution scholar.
The PIPA poll did have several warning signs for theadministration, as respondents have become more pessimistic aboutthe prospects for success in Iraq.
The number of those who believed the year-old war would resultin greater peace and stability in the Middle East has dropped from56 percent in a Gallup poll in May 2003 to 40 percent last month inthe PIPA poll.
And for the first time, a majority of Americans – 51 percent -said they thought that a majority of Iraqis wanted U.S. forces toleave. The survey was completed before the worst violence of theoccupation erupted in April.
Complete results can be found at the Web site of the Program onInternational Policy Attitudes, at www.pipa.org.