Public Remains Opposed To Syria Strikes
As we head into a week or more of Congressional debate, the American public remains heavily opposed to American military action against Syria:
President Obama faces an uphill battle in making the case for U.S. military action in Syria. By a 48% to 29% margin, more Americans oppose than support conducting military airstrikes against Syria in response to reports that the Syrian government used chemical weapons.
The new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Aug. 29-Sept. 1 among 1,000 adults, finds that Obama has significant ground to make up in his own party. Just 29% of Democrats favor conducting airstrikes against Syria while 48% are opposed. Opinion among independents is similar (29% favor, 50% oppose). Republicans are more divided, with 35% favoring airstrikes and 40% opposed.
Three-quarters (74%) believe that U.S. airstrikes in Syria are likely to create a backlash against the United States and its allies in the region and 61% think it would be likely to lead to a long-term U.S. military commitment there. Meanwhile, just 33% believe airstrikes are likely to be effective in discouraging the use of chemical weapons; roughly half (51%) think they are not likely to achieve this goal.
However, most believe Assad is guilty of using chemical weapons; 53% say there is clear evidence that the Syrian government used them against civilians there while just 23% say there is no clear evidence of a chemical attack. While those who think the evidence is clear offer modestly more support for airstrikes, even here as many oppose as support U.S. military involvement (41% each).
I’m sure we’ll see more polls on this issue as the next week to ten days unfolds and they’re likely to be consistent with this result. The question is what impact public opinion will have on how Congress votes. As we’ve learned in the past (see e.g., the 2008 vote on TARP and the 2010 vote on the PPACA), sustained public opposition to a course of action desired by the President and the powers-that-be in Congress does not mean that Congress will follow public opinion.
Update: The Pew results are mirrored in a new poll from ABC News and The Washington Post:
Americans widely oppose launching missile strikes against the Syrian government for its alleged use of chemical weapons, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that finds little appetite for military action across the country despite a growing drumbeat in Washington.
Nearly six in 10 oppose missile strikes in light of the U.S. government’s determination that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people. Democrats and Republicans alike oppose strikes by double digit margins, and there is deep opposition among every political and demographic group in the survey. Political independents are among the most clearly opposed, with 66 percent saying they are against military action.
Broad opposition in the new poll contrasts with a December Post-ABC poll that found most Americans saying they would be supportive of U.S. action if Syria used chemical weapons. At that time, 63 percent supported U.S. military involvement when it was a hypothetical situation, while 30 percent were opposed.
Such possible support for action has yet to materialize in the weeks after an August 21 gassing that reportedly killed 1,429 people outside of Damascus. The survey was conducted Wednesday through Sunday, as the Obama administration made its public case for military strikes and presented intelligence claiming “high certainty” that Syria’s government is the culprit in attacks.
Americans express more support for action if Britain and France were to join the cause, a prospect that became far less likely after the British parliament shot down a proposal for military action in Syria. In the United States, support for missile strikes in Syria rises by 10 percentage points, to 46 percent, if Britain and France participate, including a 14 point jump among independents. Still, 51 percent remain opposed even if such a coalition materialized.
It will be interesting to see how these numbers move, if at all, as the Administration and its supporters in Congress attempt to make their case over the coming week.