US split on torture as polls approve Obama's first 100 days

A narrow majority of Americans back President Barack Obama’s decision to release details of the torture of suspected terrorists and want a legal investigation into whether any laws were broken, according to an opinion poll released to mark the new administration’s 100th day in power.

The issue divides the country, with almost half saying that torture is justified in certain circumstances. Another poll shows a similar number believe torture has already led to the collection of valuable intelligence.

Overall, support for Obama has crept up since he took office in January. A poll published in Sunday’s Washington Post showed 69% of voters approve of the way he is handling the country.
Unsurprisingly, he has the support of nine out of 10 Democrats, but 36% of Republicans also approve. George Bush had an overall approval rating of just 37% when he left office.

A poll by the Pew Research Centre showed that 73% of voters—and as many as 46% of Republicans—held a favourable view of Obama as a person even if they disagree with some of his policies.

Obama does particularly well on foreign affairs, with 71% of Americans backing his planned withdrawal from Iraq and clear majorities in favour of his policies toward Afghanistan, the easing of sanctions on Cuba and his shift toward the European view of the need to take global warming seriously.

That support reflects an increase in the US’s standing in the world after Obama repudiated George Bush’s unilateralist approach. The president has the support of 71% of Americans in his drive to talk to foreign leaders who are hostile to the US, despite severe criticism from his opponents for shaking hands with the Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chávez.

Domestic issues are more divisive, although Obama still retains a clear majority over his handling of the economy, taxes and promises to reform healthcare. But only a slim majority—51%—have confidence in his handling of the blooming budget deficit. Still, Americans trust Obama on the economy more than Republicans by more than two to one.

The release of memos detailing torture against suspected terrorists also divides the country, with 53% saying they supported the move and 44% opposed. A narrow majority—51%—is in favour of investigating whether any laws were broken in the use of torture.

On whether torture is justified in any circumstances, about half of Americans said there were times when it should be considered. A Fox News poll showed a similar number of people believe that what are euphemistically called “harsh techniques” had resulted in obtaining “valuable information” to prevent terrorist attacks.

The Pew poll showed an increase in support, to 51%, for Obama’s decision to close the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay.

Despite the differences, the polls are generally moving in the right direction for the president. Fifty-five percent of Americans say they are now optimistic about the future, up by 7% on February.

Obama’s highest rating, at 90%, is for being willing to listen to different points of view. He also does well for his understanding of ordinary people and for being a strong leader.—

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