WASHINGTON -- A solid majority of Americans oppose immediately withdrawing US troops from Iraq, citing as a main reason the desire to finish the job of stabilizing the country, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll found.
Some 57 percent of those surveyed said the US military should stay until Iraq is stabilized; 36 percent favor an immediate withdrawal. A year ago, 71 percent favored keeping troops in Iraq until it was stabilized.
In an effort to build support for his Iraq policy, President Bush plans an Oval Office address tonight to discuss the US mission and what lies ahead in 2006.
The speech will be his first from the Oval Office since March 2003 when he announced the invasion. In the past two weeks, he has given four speeches on Iraq.
In the poll, when people were asked in an open-ended question the main reason the United States should keep troops in Iraq, 32 percent said to stabilize the country and 26 percent said to finish the rebuilding job underway.
Only 1 in 10 said they wanted to stay in Iraq to fight terrorism; just 3 percent said to protect US national security.
''You've got to finish the job," said Terry Waterman, a store manager from Superior, Wis. ''The whole world is looking to us for leadership. We can't have another Vietnam."
Other recent polling has found that when given additional options, many people favor a step somewhere in between having troops leave immediately and staying until the country is stabilized.
After months of unrelenting violence, millions of Iraqis turned out last week to choose a parliament. Early estimates placed the voter turnout close to 70 percent of Iraq's 15 million registered voters.
Some 49 percent of Americans now say the war with Iraq was a mistake, according to the poll of 1,006 adults conducted Tuesday through Thursday. That compares with 53 percent in August. Two years ago, only 34 percent of those surveyed said the war was a mistake.
Two years ago, after ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was captured, 64 percent of respondents said the war was the right thing to do. Now, 42 percent say it was the right decision.
Over two years, some of the biggest shifts on whether the war was a good decision or a mistake have occurred among married people with children, those with low incomes, and those with a high school education or less.
''Whether the war is a mistake is less relevant than what we should do now," said John McAdams, a political scientist at Marquette University in Milwaukee. ''A fair number of people may think it's a mistake, but still don't want to lose."