With President Obama set to address to the nation tomorrow night on his strategy for dealing with the Islamic State, the Washington Post and ABC News released a poll this morning showing substantial (and growing) public support for his policy of air strikes against the Islamic State. Ironically, however, that support isn’t translating into approval for how Obama has handled the ISIS threat.
Three points about the poll:
- Support for air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq is up twenty-six percentage points since June. Events on the ground no doubt are driving the change. But increased public support is probably encouraged by the fact that both administration officials and their critics are saying that the United States must confront ISIS. Six in ten Americans now see ISIS as a very serious threat to vital U.S. interests and three in ten see it as a somewhat serious threat.
- Support for air strikes is strong across the political spectrum. Republicans are the most supportive, with 83 percent supporting air strikes in Iraq and 74 percent willing to expand them to ISIS targets in Syria. But two-thirds of Democrats and Independents favor air strikes in Iraq and six in ten support strikes in Syria.
- Public support for air strikes does not equal support for boots on the ground. The poll didn’t ask about sending U.S. combat troops back to Iraq. But the fact that support for arming Kurds to fight ISIS (58 percent) was 13 percentage points lower than support for air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq suggests that Americans remain skittish about being drawn back into the Iraqi quagmire.
Therein lies the irony in the poll. While Americans are embracing the president’s policy of using air power against ISIS and they don’t appear to be any more eager than he is to use combat troops, they don’t think much of how he has handled the ISIS threat. A majority (53 percent) says he has been too cautious in responding, while only a third think he has handled it about right. More broadly, just 38 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy, which is four points lower than his overall public approval rating. In all, the Washington Post/ABC News poll provides more evidence of what Robert Kagan has called the Obama foreign policy paradox: Americans don’t like getting the foreign policy they tell pollsters they want.