Support for military action in Iraq still strong, Elon University Poll finds

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Support for war against Iraq continues to rise, while North Carolinians favor a combination of spending cuts and tax increases to balance the troubled state budget.

Those are among the findings of a new Elon University Poll, conducted Nov. 18-21 by the Elon Institute for Politics and Public Affairs. The poll sampled the opinions of 699 adults in the state and has a margin of error of ± 3.8 percent.

The poll found support for a military strike against Iraq has risen since an Elon University Poll conducted Oct. 21-24.Seventy-one percent of those polled favored military strikes, compared with 62 percent in the October survey. Support is even higher (80 percent) if the U.S. has support from a coalition including Arab allies, or uses air strikes without the commitment of American ground troops.

The increase in support overall may be a response to shifting world opinion about Iraq, said Tim Vercellotti, associate director of the Elon University Poll. “North Carolinians may be feeling more confident about military intervention now that other nations have voted to support the United States’ position.”

Public opinion about how to solve the state’s budget woes reflects the difficult choices state lawmakers face next year. While 45 percent of those surveyed support budget cuts alone to balance the budget, 35 percent favored a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

“State legislators are loath to raise taxes again after approving a local option to increase the sales tax this year,” Vercellotti said. “But their constituents seem to acknowledge that tax increases might be necessary.”

Opinion was divided on what programs should suffer if the state were forced to make budget cuts. The chart below shows which programs citizens thought should be cut first:

“It’s interesting that the greatest public support was for cuts in state personnel expenses, given that state employees went without pay raises this year,” Vercellotti said. “State employees may need to get the word out about the sacrifices they have already made.”

Thirteen percent of respondents, after hearing all the options, said the state should not cut spending at all. “The results suggest that spending cuts may be acceptable to North Carolinians in theory, but when faced with specific choices, the reductions become harder for some to accept,” Vercellotti said.

The poll also asked state residents about the recent U.S. Senate election. Sixty-seven percent said they believed the tone of campaign television and radio advertising was negative, but 59 percent said this had no effect on whether they voted or not. Only 5 percent indicated the ads were important in their decision-making process. Most voters said the issues were the important factor in their decision. The chart below shows which issues were the most important to voters in the election:

“One of the most detrimental aspects of negative campaigns is that they discourage voter turnout,” said Sharon Spray, director of the Elon University Poll. “Even though the majority of North Carolina voters perceived the tone of the past election’s ads to be negative, it does not seem to have had an impact on their decision to vote. While this is a positive finding, one has to hope that voters have not reached the point where they are so accustomed to negative campaigning that they simply accept this as typical or acceptable behavior.”

On other issues, the poll found:

  • 64 percent support a state lottery and 84 percent support a voter referendum on the issue, consistent with previous polls
  • Governor Mike Easley’s approval rating is at 44 percent, up slightly from 41 percent in September
  • Support for a cigarette tax is strong, with 53 percent saying they favor increasing the tax on cigarette packs

This poll is the fifteenth 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 27 telephone polling stations.