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Canadians are solidly opposed to the war in Iraq and most Americans now believe that our decision not to join that prolonged and unpopular conflict was a good one, a new poll suggests.

A wide-ranging public opinion survey conducted earlier this month by the Strategic Counsel for The Globe and Mail and CTV explored the beliefs that Canadians and Americans hold about national security, the U.S. election, health care, gay marriage, the Iraqi conflict - and each other.

While the world views in both countries differ, the poll suggests there is considerable common ground when it comes to Iraq.

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Opposition to the war is huge in Canada, where 82 per cent of respondents said the invasion was the wrong decision. That's a major reversal from five years ago, during the early days of the conflict, when 51 per cent of poll respondents said Canadian troops should jump to the aid of the United States.

It's also a change that is being reflected south of the border where 54 per cent of American respondents to this month's survey said their country never should have become involved militarily in Iraq.

And an even greater number - 59 per cent - of Americans surveyed applaud Canada's decision to stay home.

"Among Americans, more people think it was a good decision for Canada not to participate than think the Iraq war was a mistake," said Peter Donolo, a Strategic Counsel partner. "It certainly hasn't had the negative impact on attitudes toward us that some had expected."

The new poll, which surveyed 1,000 Canadians and 1,000 Americans between June 12 and June 28, is expected to reflect broad opinion in both countries within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

On security, the survey suggests that Americans are somewhat more polarized than Canadians in their opinions about how the world has changed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Forty-seven per cent of respondents in both Canada and the United States said the world is not as safe as it was before 9/11. But nearly one in five Americans said they think it is actually safer today than it was then, compared to just 11 per cent of Canadians who say safety has improved.

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A majority of people in both countries said the United States is losing its influence on the world stage. But Canadians were more likely than Americans to say that an improvement in the U.S. image abroad would help reduce the threat of terrorism.

Both Canadians and Americans say Barack Obama, the presumed Democratic candidate for president, would be a "game changer" with respect to the image of the United States in the world. And Canadians really like Mr. Obama. When asked to name the politician in either country they admire most, 26 per cent named the Illinois senator, putting him at the top of the list.

"We see these impressive candidates in Canada compared to the U.S., particularly Obama who is more popular than any Canadian political leader," Mr. Donolo said. "And it's one of those relatively rare moments when we look south of the border at their politics with something approaching envy."

On the topic of health care, the poll suggests the envy goes in the other direction. While 91 per cent of Canadians surveyed said their health system is superior to that in the United States, 45 per cent of Americans said they too think the Canadian system is better.

And finally, the poll suggests that Canadian support for same-sex marriage is growing. Two years ago, 55 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they would not want to repeal the law that allows the unions. The more recent survey found that 68 per cent of respondents back gay marriage.

Support in the United States is not as strong; just 44 per cent of people polled in that country said they are in favour.

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The Canadian numbers show "that people are averse to change but, when change comes and the walls don't come tumbling down, that their concern kind of dissipates," Mr. Donolo said.

"As gay marriage has been allowed in two states, as it becomes more and more de facto, my guess is that you will see opposition melt [in that country]"

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Weighing in on war and politics

A poll of 1,000 Canadians and 1,000 Americans found Canadians are much more likely to think that the Iraq war was the wrong decision.

Do you believe the U.S. government made the right or wrong decision to become involved in the Iraq war?

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CANADA

Wrong decision: 82%

Right decision: 12%

Don't know: 6%

UNITED STATES

Wrong decision: 54%

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Right decision: 40%

Don't know: 6%

Canadians were asked:

Which politician do you admire most?

Barack Obama: 26%

Stephen Harper: 21%

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Hillary Clinton: 16%

Jack Layton: 9%

Gilles Duceppe: 6%

Stéphane Dion: 5%

John McCain: 3%

THE GLOBE AND MAIL STAFF/SOUCE: THE STRATEGIC COUNSEL

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