Every so often, the Gallup Poll asks Americans what they think should be the government's highest priorities and to rate them in terms of their importance.
The latest list of top-five concerns is a familiar one, but some of the open-ended responses to Gallup's pollsters drew a few surprises and, in some cases, a more nuanced view of thorny issues than ever get reported on the nightly news shows.
Iraq, of course, is No. 1 on the list and has been since March 2004, when casualties mounted and support for the war began to weaken. Now "close to six in 10 Americans say the Iraq war was a mistake," Gallup said.
A majority of Americans is opposed to the surge of troops at the heart of President Bush's plan to reduce the violence there and stabilize Baghdad. But, interestingly, they do not favor enacting any legislation that would deny funding for the surge.
Bush's argument during last week's legislative showdown was focused on the threat of holding up funding for the troops, and he won that political battle hands down.
However, a majority of Americans favor a timetable for withdrawal, though we are still "sharply divided along party lines, with Democrats generally supportive and Republicans strongly opposed." That pretty much mirrors last week's vote in Congress that fell significantly short of the two-thirds needed to override Bush's veto of the Democrats' pullout bill.
Close behind Iraq is the issue of terrorism and national security, which is the subtext for the war in Iraq. People who do not support the war may nevertheless worry about what impact a full-scale withdrawal would have on our own vulnerability to another terrorist attack here at home. Notably, Bush and the Republicans fare much better on issues having to do with terrorism.
While Democratic leaders have been sharply and relentlessly critical of the administration's anti-terrorism methods, alleging they have gone too far and threaten our civil liberties, a majority of Americans do not share those concerns.
"Overall, Americans show fairly broad tolerance for strong anti-terrorism measures. Relatively few Americans think the Patriot Act 'goes too far' in compromising civil liberties to fight terrorism; a majority either thinks it is about right or would like it to go further," Gallup found. Remember the hue and cry from Democrats and the news media about the administration's telephone intercepts between terrorists from abroad and their agents here at home?
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