U.N. support crucial to military action in Iraq, Elon University Poll finds

Nearly half of North Carolinians are opposed to U.S. military action in Iraq without the backing of the United Nations Security Council, while support for John Edwards’ presidential candidacy has increased slightly since October 2002.

Those are among the findings of a new Elon University Poll, conducted Feb. 18-20 by the Elon Institute for Politics and Public Affairs. The poll sampled the opinions of 517 adults in the state and has a margin of error of ± 4.4 percent.

While 67 percent of those surveyed support using military force to remove Saddam Hussein, the poll found opposition to the war has increased since November. Twenty-six percent said they oppose attacks on Iraq, compared with 19 percent in a November Elon University Poll.

Support fluctuates, however, depending on the circumstances surrounding the war. Forty-nine percent of North Carolinians oppose an attack without approval from the U.N. Security Council, while 42 percent said they would support the attacks without such approval. Only 56 percent of respondents supported an attack involving a large number of American ground troops.

“The White House has argued that the Security Council will fade into irrelevance if it does not endorse an attack,” said Tim Vercellotti, associate director of the poll. “But a substantial percentage of North Carolinians seem to view the Security Council as quite relevant, and they want its seal of approval on war with Iraq.”

The following charts illustrate citizens’ opinions on military action in Iraq:

Although a sizable number of residents said they are worried about further terrorist attacks on the U.S., the poll found few are concerned about those attacks hitting close to home. Forty-four percent of those surveyed said they fear further attacks on the U.S., but only 18 percent are worried or very worried about an attack in their local community. Only 15 percent have stockpiled food and water, and just 5 percent heeded recent government recommendations to purchase materials such as plastic sheeting and duct tape to safeguard against a chemical or biological attack.

The only preventive measure that had widespread support was a vaccination against smallpox, with 53 percent of residents saying they would accept the vaccination if it was offered.

“It’s clear that a sizable number of North Carolinians still worry about terrorist attacks, but they are not worried about those attacks happening here,” said Sharon Spray, director of the Elon University Poll. “The exception seems to be an attack involving the smallpox virus, since more than half of the respondents said they would accept a vaccination if it was offered.”

The poll also found support for John Edwards’ presidential candidacy in 2004 has increased to 36 percent, back near the 38 percent level of support he had in April 2002. Support for his presidential bid is also up from 32 percent in October 2002.

But few residents supported a campaign in which Edwards could run for president and the U.S. Senate at the same time in 2004. When asked to respond to this scenario, only 13 percent of North Carolinians thought he should seek both offices, 18 percent said he should only run for president and 35 percent said he should run only for the Senate.

The poll also found support for Edwards work in the Senate has dropped from 45 percent in April 2002 and September 2002 to 39 percent, but Spray says these figures may be due to the focus on his potential presidential bid. “The Senate has accomplished very little in the months since we last asked this question,” said Spray. “Edwards’ approval ratings may simply have dropped because most of the press he is receiving in the state is focusing on his presidential aspirations and not on his work in the Senate.”

On other issues, the poll found:

  • 45 percent approve of the job of Governor Mike Easley is doing, up slightly from 42 percent in September 2002 but down from 50 percent in April 2002
  • 27 percent believe the state economy will get better in the next year, roughly the same level of confidence in October 2002 when confidence was at 30 percent
  • North Carolinians’ confidence in their own financial situation has dropped from 39 percent in September 2002 to 32 percent.

This poll is the sixteenth 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.