South may not back Bush
Support for Iraq war slides
Southern support for Operation Iraqi Freedom is eroding, according to a new poll.
Forty-two percent of Southerners now question the administration's decision to commit troops, according to a poll by the Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University. The poll found a broad drop in Southerners' commitment to U.S. involvement in Iraq since early May, when President Bush declared an end to major military operations there.
At the time, less than one-third of Southerners were uncertain about the war. But as the postwar occupation drags on and the promised weapons of mass destruction fail to appear, doubts are increasing.
"Back when it's an easy fight with little or no resistance, people get kind of wound up in the cheering and flag-waving," said David Gespass, a lawyer and anti-war advocate with the Birmingham Peace Project. "Now that troops have been there for a year, we're worrying about when they'll get home."
Concerns also are growing for Southern soldiers abroad, some say. With some of the largest state National Guards in the country, the South is disproportionately represented in occupation forces.
"For the most part, Southerners are more militaristic, and they're dying in large portions," said Karen Cartee, a professor of advertising and public relations at the University of Alabama. "People ask themselves, 'Is the end in sight?' "
Southerners are starting to oppose the war for the same reason they once supported it, said Nikos Zahariadis, a professor of political science at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
"It seems paradoxical, I know, but many people from the South weren't supporting Bush, they were supporting the troops," he said.
Now those supporters are "wondering exactly when their husbands and sons and daughters are coming home," he said.
Bush's approval rating in the South, 69 percent in May, has fallen to 57 percent in the new poll.
The poll also found that women and all racial and ethnic minorities generally express the greatest reservations about the war and the military occupation that followed. Seventy-two percent of black Southerners are now uncertain about the war, up from 54 percent in May.
"They may feel a need for government attention to needs at home," said Carol Cassel, a professor of political science at the University of Alabama. "In addition, this is a partisan issue, and blacks are primarily Democrats."
With the Democratic nomination for president less than a year away "the Democrats are sensing an opening there," Zahariadis said.
Daily attention from politicians and the press focusing on the Iraqi occupation seems to have soured the public's perception of the war, Cartee said.
"Many people were disgusted with the images of Saddam's sons," she said. "That turned a lot of stomachs."
Photos of Saddam's dead, blood-covered sons — Odai and Qusai — were broadcast widely.
In Alabama, daily coverage of the war has been overshadowed by the tax referendum debate, Zahariadis said. But once that issue is gone, "you'll see support drop precipitously," he said.
Already, Birmingham's pro-war movement is "more muted than when the assault first took place," Gespass said.
The poll was conducted at the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. Adult residents of the United States were interviewed by telephone July 30-Aug. 12 in a study funded by a grant from the Scripps Foundation.
The poll had an overall 5 percentage point margin of error, although the margin increases when examining attitudes among small groups within the poll.