WASHINGTON - A large majority of President Bush's supporters continue to believe that Iraq either had weapons of mass destruction (47 percent) or a major program to develop them (25 percent), contrary to official findings, a survey taken this month found.
And three out of four Bush backers believe Saddam Hussein provided substantial support to al-Qaeda or was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, while 56 percent said the Sept. 11 Commission found such ties.
In reality, the commission found "no collaborative relationship" between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
The survey by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes, released Thursday, shows that the supporters of Bush and Sen. John Kerry have stark differences and see "separate realities" about Iraq and other foreign policy issues.
The poll, conducted by Knowledge Networks, was taken of 968 people during Oct. 12-18, after the final report by Charles Duelfer concluded that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.2 to 4 percent.
Earlier samples of 798 and 959 people were taken in September.
Steven Kull, program director, said that Bush supporters' "resistance to information" on several fronts reflected a powerful bond with the president formed after the Sept. 11 attacks, and the perception - shared by Kerry supporters - that Bush still asserts that Iraq had WMD.
In recent months, Bush has said he was "disappointed" that such weapons were not found, that the search continued and that it was important to "disarm" Hussein.
There may be another reason, Kull said. Asked whether U.S. forces should have invaded Iraq if U.S. intelligence had concluded that Iraq was not making WMD or providing support to al-Qaeda, 58 percent of Bush supporters said no.
"To support the president and to accept that he took the United States to war based on mistaken assumptions is difficult to bear, especially in light of the continuing costs in terms of lives and money," Kull said.
"Apparently, to avoid this cognitive dissonance, Bush supporters suppress awareness of unsettling information."
A spokesman for the Bush campaign, Reed Dickens, said the perceptions on weapons were understandable "given that it's only in the last few weeks we've had this definitive finding" of the Duelfer report.
The survey also found that Bush supporters have "numerous misperceptions" about the president's positions. Majorities incorrectly believe that Bush backs the Kyoto global-warming treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the International Criminal Court, and the treaty banning land mines.
A majority of Bush backers (57 percent) also believe most people in the world favor Bush's re-election, contrary to the findings of several polls.