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Sunday Morning News

Gallup Poll Results: Most Americans Approve Federal Seizure of Elian and Think He Belongs in Cuba

Aired April 23, 2000 - 8:40 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Most Americans approve of the way the government took Elian Gonzalez from his Miami home and a majority still thinks it's in the child's best interests that he return to Cuba with his father, this is according to a CNN/Gallup poll of 613 people taken yesterday which shows 57 percent of Americans approve of the government's actions while 37 percent disapprove. And few people are wishy washy about their opinions on this. When asked how strongly they felt about their views, 48 percent strongly approved while 30 percent strongly disapproved. Asked if government agents used too much force, 40 percent say yes, 36 percent say agents used just the right amount and 23 percent are unsure.

Let's find our more about America's view of yesterday's actions. CNN polling director Keating Holland joins us from Washington.

Hi, Keating.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: Hi.

PHILLIPS: Well, as this story has heated up lately, have you seen a difference in public opinion as you've done these polls?

HOLLAND: Yes. One of the most interesting differences is between men and women. Two thirds of men approve of what the federal government did yesterday and only 48 percent of women. It's a gender gap that we kind of expected to see, but I didn't think it was going to be anywhere near that high. I think it's simply because men are more comfortable with the federal government using force in this circumstance. Women are always a little more concerned when force gets into play.

PHILLIPS: Now, how do you think these results compare to previous polls when we talk about specifically the people who say he should go back to Cuba or that Elian should stay in the U.S.?

HOLLAND: Well, one thing that we didn't know going into this was whether or not this would change people's views of the bigger picture, whether or not he should go back to Cuba with his father. And as it turns out, there is no change. Before and after, almost identical numbers believe that it's in the best interests of Elian to go back with his father in Cuba. As you can see there, only 31 percent say that he should stay with his relatives in the United States. And we've seen that since January and I think that's one of the main reasons why the public is so supportive of what the government did yesterday. They got what they wanted. They wanted Elian back with his father without any bloodshed and the federal government was able to do both of those things. That's why you see so high numbers approving of what the federal government did and why people strongly approve, in most circumstances.

PHILLIPS: What about in regards to how Reno handled the situation?

HOLLAND: People are split on Janet Reno and how she's handled the Elian Gonzalez case so far. Forty-five percent approve; 46 percent disapprove. I think one of the reasons there is that, this is a presidential election year. She is Bill Clinton's attorney general. She is anathema to a number of Republicans so it's not surprising to find that Democrats strongly approve of what she's done, Republicans strongly disapprove of how she's handled the case so far.

PHILLIPS: How about Miami relatives?

HOLLAND: Ah, they seem to be the bad guys in all of this. Only 31 percent of the public approve of how they've handled the whole Elian Gonzalez situation. I'm assuming that that's because they were not responding to the federal government and also because they weren't, once again, doing what the public wanted them to do, which is turn the boy over to his father, reunite the boy with his father.

PHILLIPS: And a big controversial subject, of course, has been that picture, I think we're going to take a look at it right now, here of the federal agent coming in and retrieving Elian. How do you think this influenced public opinion, the folks who saw the picture, folks who didn't see the picture?

HOLLAND: Very interesting thing here, we asked people whether or not they had seen this picture. Those who had seen it said that the federal government had used too much force. That 40 percent figure that you saw earlier, that the federal government used too much force, jumps up to 51 percent among people who have actually seen that picture, seen the television coverage.

And two or three times as many people had seen that picture than seen the subsequent ones of Elian smiling when he's reunited with his father and his half brother. So it almost looks as if the administration may be losing a public relations battle here while still winning the overall war in that people have seen this, they don't necessarily react favorably to it but it doesn't make a difference when it comes down to whether or not you approve of ultimately what was done yesterday.

And again, what was done is the public got what they wanted, Elian Gonzalez is back with his father, no bloodshed whatsoever.

PHILLIPS: Very good point. And also, one last point on the picture. I think also it's important for people, it's tough to make a decision about that when you don't have a law enforcement background. The picture did, we did point out yesterday the finger's not on the trigger. The gun is in a low ready position. So tactically, those who are familiar with law enforcement training, these are proper tactics. So it's interesting.

HOLLAND: Nonetheless, I think this is a picture that is scary to some people, particularly to women. There is a gun. There is a man wearing a flak jacket and a helmet and he looks like he's ready not to pull the trigger, obviously, but it looks like he's ready for action. It can be scary sometimes, again, particularly to women. I think we're seeing that in the polls. The big question is whether or not that's going to go away after the public has seen it and also seen the pictures of the smiling Elian with his father and his family up here in Washington or whether or not that's going to stick in the public's mind for the rest of the year and certainly into the election.

PHILLIPS: Very good. Keating Holland, polling director for CNN, thanks so much for joining us.

HOLLAND: Thank you.

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