Poll: War increased terror threat citizens say
WASHINGTON – More than two-thirds of the people living in Australia, Britain and Italy – three countries allied with the United States in the Iraq war – believe the war has increased the threat of terrorism.
Leaders of those countries – prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain and John Howard of Australia and Premier Silvio Berlusconi of Italy – all get low marks from their people for their handling of the war on terrorism, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll shows.
More than half of those in the United States, 52 percent, believe the Iraq war has increased the threat of terrorism, while three in 10 in the United States think it has decreased the threat – a view promoted by President Bush.
“In the context of the presidential campaign in the United States, this is undeniably a blow for George W. Bush, since it shows that a majority of Americans don’t agree with the main justification for his policy in Iraq,” said Gilles Corman, research director at Ipsos-Inra of Belgium, who studies public opinion trends across Europe.
In Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, a majority thought last winter that the Iraq war was increasing the threat of terrorism. That number has increased in each of the countries. Australians were not polled in the AP-Ipsos project last winter.
In Australia and each of five European countries polled, only about one in 20 believe the Iraq war decreased the terror threat.
Leaders of several countries that opposed the Iraq war get strong ratings from their citizens on how they are handling terrorism.
Political leaders in the Iraq war coalition have faced domestic political pressure because of their stance on Iraq.
— Howard won re-election Saturday despite criticism in Australia of his support for the Iraq war. The public was evenly divided on Howard’s handling of terrorism, with only 44 percent approving, but he apparently was helped by Australia’s strong economy.
— Bush faces the voters again in early November in a campaign that is increasingly focused on Iraq, with public doubts about the impact of the Iraq war on the terrorism fight.
— In Britain, the poll found only one-third approve of Blair’s handling of the war on terror. Friday’s announcement of the beheading in Iraq of British hostage Kenneth Bigley is likely to increase pressure on Blair.
— Berlusconi has seen Italians’ fears of terrorism increase sharply since last winter – from seven in 10 worried about terrorism in February to almost nine in 10 now. Just over one-third of Italians approve of Berlusconi’s handling of terrorism. Two Italian women taken hostage in Iraq were freed last month, and an Iraqi who lived in Italy was executed by kidnappers in Iraq early this month. Berlusconi has pledged to lead the country until the end of his term in 2006.
In contrast, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Mexico and Spain all get high marks for their handling of terrorism, with a majority in each country saying they approve, according to polls conducted for the AP by Ipsos, an international polling firm.
French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero have all publicly opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has been less outspoken in his criticism of the war than some of the European leaders, but Canada didn’t send troops to Iraq.
The leaders position on the Iraq war is only one of many factors that could affect public perception of their handling of terrorism.
“The proportion of people worried by the terrorist threat has increased in most of the countries … since February,” said Corman of Ipsos in Belgium. “People feel more and more insecure.”
Fears of terrorism increased in seven of the eight countries polled in the winter and again this fall.
Only in Germany did those worries ease a bit this year. Terrorism fears were high early this year after the killing of 14 German tourists in 2002 at a Tunisian resort and the revelation that some Sept. 11 hijackers were part of a terror cell in Hamburg.
But public debate in Germany this year has focused on reforms of the social system, labor regulations and the health care system, moving discussion of terrorism out of the spotlight, said Christian Holst, director of public affairs for Ipsos-Germany.