http://politics.guardian.co.uk/iraq/story/0,12956,1087545,00.html Protests begin but majority backs Bush visit as support for war surges See the ICM poll in full (pdf) Alan Travis and David Gow Tuesday November 18, 2003 The Guardian A majority of Labour voters welcome President George Bush's state visit to Britain which starts today, according to November's Guardian/ICM opinion poll. The survey shows that public opinion in Britain is overwhelmingly pro-American with 62% of voters believing that the US is "generally speaking a force for good, not evil, in the world". It explodes the conventional political wisdom at Westminster that Mr Bush's visit will prove damaging to Tony Blair. Only 15% of British voters agree with the idea that America is the "evil empire" in the world. Mr Blair insisted last night that he had made the right decision in inviting Mr Bush to Britain as an unprecedented security operation got under way to prepare for his arrival today. More than 14,000 police officers at a cost of £5m will be on duty during the four-day visit, with tens of thousands of anti-war protesters are expected to take to the streets. The ICM poll also uncovers a surge in pro-war sentiment in the past two months as suicide bombers have stepped up their attacks on western targets and troops in Iraq. Opposition to the war has slumped by 12 points since September to only 41% of all voters. At the same time those who believe the war was justified has jumped 9 points to 47% of voters. This swing in the mood of British voters is echoed in the poll's finding that two-thirds of voters believe British and American troops should not pull out of Iraq now but instead stay until the situation is "more stable". It also may explain the beginnings of a recovery in Tony Blair's personal ratings in this month's Guardian poll. He still remains an unpopular prime minister with 52% unhappy with the job he is doing, compared with 40% who say they are satisfied with his performance. But the prime minister's net popularity rating of minus 12 points is a significant improvement over last month's net rating of minus 18 points. The detailed results of the poll show that more people - 43% - say they welcome George Bush's arrival in Britain than the 36% who say they would prefer he did not come. Labour voters are more enthusiastic about the visit than Tory voters. But it is only Liberal Democrats who are marginally more unhappy about his arrival, with 43% against and 39% willing to welcome him. A majority of "twentysomethings" welcome Mr Bush. Hostility is strongest amongst the over-65s. There is a clear gender gap in attitudes with a majority of men - 51% - welcoming the president's arrival, compared with only 35% of women. Pro-Americanism, as might be expected, is strongest among Tory voters with 71% saying the US is a force for good. But it is nearly matched by the 66% of Labour voters who say the US is a force for good. Anti-Americanism is strongest among Liberal Democrat voters but is still only shared by 24% of them and the majority see the US as the "good guys". Mr Blair told the CBI national conference in Birmingham yesterday of his support for the war on terrorism, saying: "Now is not the time to waver but see it through." In unscripted remarks, he said the weekend terrorist bombings in Turkey, the recent attacks in Saudi Arabia and continuing bombings in Iraq, meant Britain should "stand firm with the United States of America in defeating terrorism wherever it is and delivering us safely from what I genuinely believe is the security threat of the 21st century". But Mr Blair made plain he completely backed the EU's stance against the US over illegal tariffs on steel imports, insisting that Washington must now respond to the World Trade Organisation ruling: "There will be from time to time these disagreements on issues to do with trade and we must stick very firmly to our position." The prime minister also reaffirmed his vision of Britain as a bridge between the US and Europe. "I firmly believe we have two big foreign policy pillars, the US alliance and our position in the EU. There's absolutely no reason to yield up either and we will not," he said to loud applause. · ICM interviewed a random sample of 1,002 adults aged 18 and over by telephone between November 14-16, 2003. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.