WASHINGTON (AP) – Images of battered American POWs, downed Apache helicopters and U.S. fatalities in Iraq have had a dramatic impact on the public’s perception of the war.

Just 38 percent said the conflict was going well on Monday, down from 71 percent last Friday, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center.

But the plummeting confidence barely changed overall support for the war and President Bush’s stewardship.

About seven in 10 Americans said the U.S.-led military campaign was the right thing to do, and overall approval of the president remained high at about 71 percent, according to the daily survey conducted March 20-24.

Lunchtime interviews yesterday found the same opinions.

Valerie Akins, a 50-year-old dental hygienist in Boston, said the fierce fighting had dashed her hopes for an immediate resolution but had not dampened her support for the war.

“I thought the war would be over really quickly, that they’d give up really fast, but it’s just been going on and on. I thought they’d give up in a week,” Akins said. “But we’re there for a purpose, so until this purpose is realized, I’ll be there for them.”

Jeffrey Moro, a 48-year-old graphic artist in New York, said he expected a repeat of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in which the ground war lasted 100 hours, but events have convinced him he was mistaken.

“It seems the Iraqis are putting up more of a fight than last time. It’s going to be a longer drawn-out affair,” said Moro, who wondered if an increasing number of casualties would erode public support.

“I think people may change their minds and take a different view.”

Most Americans are paying close attention to the developments from the Persian Gulf – 57 percent are following the news very closely and 33 percent somewhat closely.

Nine in 10 cite television as their main source for news.

During the five-day period, TV views of air attacks on Baghdad and the coalition forces’ rapid push gave way to reports of casualties, Iraqi resistance and Americans held captive.

“The bad news has registered on them, but it hasn’t undermined their resolve,” Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, said of the poll results.

The number of people who said the war was going very well was 50 percent on Thursday, one day after the conflict began.

That number rose to 71 percent on Friday and 69 percent on Saturday before dropping to 52 percent on Sunday and 38 percent Monday.

A fresh sampling of 1,495 was taken each day, according to Kohut. The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

He said the 24-hour coverage has created a situation in which “the American public is getting a full dose of this and making judgments contemporaneously with events in Iraq.”

Still, partisan divisions have only hardened in the opening days of the war. Nine in 10 Republicans believe the United States’ pre-emptive action was the right decision, compared with 58 percent of Democrats.

Among Democrats, a majority of liberals feel the decision to go to war was wrong – 54 percent to 42 percent.

Backers of the war also have a more favorable view of media coverage.

Overall, about eight in 10 consider the coverage good or excellent, about the same as during the 1991 war.

Of those who support the war, 83 percent give the media high marks, compared with two-thirds of those opposed to the war.

The survey found increasing unhappiness with anti-war criticism. In the last days of the poll, 45 percent said they have heard too much from war opponents, compared with 37 percent during the survey’s first three days.

The survey also found a division in opinion between men and women, and between whites and blacks.

Men were more likely to say that the United States made the right decision in launching the offensive, 80 percent to 65 percent for women. White Americans overwhelmingly believed the decision was right (77 percent), while blacks were more divided, 48 percent to 43 percent.

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