Summary of Findings

Public support for war in Iraq has been unaffected by the murders and desecration of the corpses of American citizens in Falluja. However, continued turmoil and violence in Iraq may be taking a toll on President Bush’s approval ratings. More Americans now disapprove of the way he is doing his job than approve, though by only a slight margin (47% disapprove vs. 43% approve). Just four-in-ten approve of the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, his lowest rating ever and down from 59% in January. Bush’s evaluations on other issues — the economy, energy and even terrorism — have fallen as well. And by a wide margin (57% to 32%) the public does not think he has a clear plan for bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion.

Nonetheless, nearly six-in-ten Americans (57%) continue to believe that the United States made the right decision in using military force against Iraq, which is unchanged from a mid-March Pew survey. However, public attitudes toward most aspects of the U.S. mission in Iraq have turned more negative since January, in the aftermath of the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Just 50% of Americans favor keeping troops in Iraq until a stable government is established there, while 44% support bringing the troops home as soon as possible. In January, the public by nearly two-to-one favored maintaining U.S. troops in Iraq until a stable government is formed (63%-32%).

The latest Pew Research Center national survey of 790 adults, conducted April 1-4, finds just 39% approve of Bush’s handling of the economy, in spite of a government report released April 2 showing a sharp increase in job growth.

At this point, the spiraling price of gas may be overshadowing jobs on the public’s radar. Public attention to news about rising gas prices, already quite high, increased markedly in early April — fully 58% paid very close attention to reports on the high price of gasoline, compared with 36% who followed the recent attacks on Americans in Iraq very closely. Only about three-in-ten (29%) approve of Bush’s handling of energy policy.

The president continues to receive majority support for his handling of terrorism (53% approve), down from 64% last September. Bush’s ratings on this issue also declined in other national polls following allegations by former White House aide Richard Clarke that the administration did not treat terrorism as an urgent priority before Sept. 11.

In general, the public feels news organizations did a good job of covering the disturbing events in Falluja, while being careful to avoid presenting overly graphic images. Half feel news organizations did a good job in this regard, while 21% think news organizations showed too many graphic images and 7% felt the media held back too much.

In general, however, public attention to those events, while broad, was not overwhelming. A narrow majority (55%) say they saw video or pictures of the American citizens who were killed in Falluja, while 45% say they did not. Among those who report seeing these images, two-thirds say news organizations struck the right balance between showing important news while being careful about the graphic nature of the images.