North Carolinians wary of Bush exit strategy for Iraqi war, Elon University Poll finds

An increasing percentage of North Carolinians do not believe that President George W. Bush has a clear plan for bringing the war in Iraq to a successful conclusion, according to the latest Elon University Poll.

Fifty-six percent said Bush does not have a clear plan, an increase of nearly seven percentage points since September.

A plurality of those surveyed, 43 percent, also said the United States should reduce its number of troops in Iraq, while 37 percent said the United States should maintain current troop levels.

"The results point to continued unease about the war in Iraq," said Tim Vercellotti, director of the poll. The statewide survey of 571 adults, conducted March 7-10, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

Opinions about whether to begin reducing the number of troops in Iraq varied across gender, race, and political parties.

The poll found that women were more likely than men to favor bringing home American forces, and non-white respondents also were more likely than white respondents to favor troop reductions.

Among those identifying themselves as registered voters, Democrats and independent voters were more likely than Republicans to support scaling back the United States' military presence in Iraq.

"Breaking down the numbers along these lines reveals significant divisions between women and men, non-whites and whites, and political partisans," Vercellotti said.

Opinion also was divided over whether the security situation in Iraq had improved since the nation's Jan. 30 election. Fifteen percent said the security situation had gotten better since the election, 22 percent said the situation had gotten worse, and 58 percent said it had stayed about the same.

The state was evenly divided in its assessment of Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, with 45 percent strongly approving or approving of the job the president was doing in that area. Forty-three percent disapproved or strongly disapproved. The president's approval rating on Iraq has changed very little compared to previous measures taken in September and November 2004.

North Carolinians also were steadfast in their views on whether the United States was right to use military force in Iraq. Fifty-nine percent said the United States was right, compared to 58 percent in September.

Bush's overall job approval stood at 52 percent strongly approving or approving, a three-point increase since the last Elon University Poll Feb. 14-17. But the increase was within the March poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

At the state level, respondents endorsed Governor Mike Easley's proposal to increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes from five cents to 50 cents over the next two years, with 59 percent saying they strongly approved or approved of the idea. Sixty-three percent had endorsed an unspecified increase in the tax in the Feb. 14-17 Elon University Poll, before Governor Easley unveiled his budget proposal for the coming state fiscal year.

"The results show that support for an increase in the cigarette tax is not just hypothetical," Vercellotti said. "Now that the governor has come out in favor of a specific increase, 59 percent of North Carolinians say they support his plan."

In addition, 53 percent said they strongly approved or approved of the governor's proposal to continue a half-cent sales tax to help balance the state budget.

But not all of the governor's tax initiatives gained public favor. Sixty-five percent disapproved or strongly disapproved of Easley's proposal to reduce the state income tax on those in the highest income bracket to spur economic development.

The poll also found widespread support for displays of the Ten Commandments on government property, an issue that had been before the United States Supreme Court earlier this month.

Seventy-nine percent supported displaying the Ten Commandments inside city council chambers, with 74 percent endorsing such displays in public school classrooms and 78 percent backing them in courtrooms.

Support for placing the Ten Commandments on government property was particularly high, hovering at around 90 percent, among those who said they attended worship services on a weekly basis.

This poll is the 29th conducted by the Elon Institute for Politics and Public Affairs since it was established in September 2000. The non-partisan Elon Poll conducts frequent statewide scientific telephone polls on issues of importance to North Carolinians. The poll results are shared with media, citizens and researchers to facilitate representative democracy and public policy making through the better understanding of the opinions and needs of North Carolina citizens.

The Elon Poll is conducted by students who work under the direction of faculty members in the political science department. A computerized polling center located on campus is equipped with sophisticated statistical software and 38 telephone polling stations.