Imagine that: there's something Americans agree on.  --  Some 87% concur that "it is okay for people who oppose the war in Iraq to express their opposition publicly."  --  On Friday, AP reported on an Ipsos poll conducted Aug. 22-24.  --  The poll indicated that while 53% think the U.S. "made a mistake in going to war in Iraq," 60% think the U.S. should "keep troops in Iraq until the situation has stabilized." ...

By Will Lester

Associated Press
August 26, 2005

An overwhelming number of people say critics of the Iraq war should be free to voice their objections -- a rare example of widespread agreement about a conflict that has divided the nation along partisan lines.

Nearly three weeks after a grieving California mother named Cindy Sheehan started her anti-war protest near President Bush's Texas ranch, nine of 10 people surveyed in an AP-Ipsos poll say it's OK for war opponents to publicly share their concerns about the conflict.

"Part of the Constitution is the First Amendment," said Mike Malone, a salesman from Odessa, Fla. "We have the right to disagree with the government."

With the U.S. death toll in Iraq climbing past 1,870 with an especially bloody August, the public's opinion of the Bush administration's handling of the war has been eroding over the past two years.

Overall attitudes about the war -- while negative -- haven't changed dramatically through the summer and a solid majority, 60 percent, want U.S. troops to stick it out until Iraq is stable.

The poll found that most people disapprove of the Bush administration's conduct of the war and think the war was a mistake. Half believe it has increased the threat of terrorism. Democrats overwhelmingly question the president's policies, while Republicans overwhelmingly support them.

Public doubts about the war have gotten new attention since Sheehan, who lost her son Casey in Iraq last year, took her protest to Crawford, Texas, on Aug. 6.

Hundreds of fellow protesters have been drawn to Camp Casey, named for her 24-year-old son. Sheehan's protest sparked hundreds of vigils around the country a week ago.

The AP-Ipsos poll found that Republicans are the most likely to disapprove of people voicing opposition to the war.

Retiree Ruth Carver of Sellersburg, Ind., said she disagrees with Sheehan's protest. "I think her son would be ashamed of her," said Carver, a Republican. "If I don't like what's going on, I can go to the polls every four years."

The poll found that 37 percent approve of the way the Bush administration is conducting the war. Three-fourths of Republicans and only 15 percent of Democrats in the poll approve.

Support for Bush's handling of the war was stronger among those who know someone who has served in Iraq -- almost half -- compared with about a quarter of those who don't know someone who served in Iraq.

More than half of those polled, 53 percent, say the United States made a mistake in going to war in Iraq. That level of opposition is about the same as the number who said that about Vietnam in August 1968, six months after the Tet offensive -- the massive North Vietnamese attack on South Vietnamese cities that helped turn U.S. opinion against that war. Various polls have shown that erosion of war support has been faster in Iraq than during the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

"Our attention span is simply shorter," said Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Our willingness to put up with a difficult military situation and losses isn't what it used to be."

With anti-war protesters getting increased attention, the president has been defending his war policies in speeches in Utah and Idaho, warning that an early withdrawal from Iraq would hurt the United States.

While disagreeing with Sheehan's call to pull troops out of Iraq, Bush said, "I strongly support her right to protest."

A solid majority of the public agrees with Bush's stance on staying in Iraq. Six in 10 in the poll support keeping troops in Iraq until it is stabilized rather than pulling them out now.

Robin Brown, a Republican from Douglasville, Ga., says the U.S. troops will eventually achieve their mission "if people will hang in there with them."

Iraqi political leaders have been struggling to reach agreement on a constitution that would be acceptable to Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

Vivian Snyder, a Republican from Staten Island, N.Y., said she disagreed with the decision to invade Iraq, but doesn't want troops to leave yet. "Otherwise, it's all for nothing."

The poll of 1,001 adults was conducted Aug. 22-24 by Ipsos, an international polling firm, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

--Trevor Tompson, AP's manager of news surveys, contributed to this story.