from The Water's Edge

Americans Still Doubt the Need for Military Strikes Against Syria

September 06, 2013

A protester holds up a sign against U.S. action in Syria as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin E. Dempsey, Secretary ... and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Joshua Roberts/Courtesy Reuters).
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Gallup is out with a new poll on what Americans think about military strikes against Syria.  Unlike the Pew Research Center and Washington Post/ABC News polls released on Tuesday, Gallup started questioning Americans after President Obama announced on Saturday that he was asking Congress to approve military action. But like the Pew and Post/ABC polls, Gallup found that far more Americans (51 percent) oppose military strikes than support them (36 percent).

By Gallup’s polling, Syria stands as the least popular proposed use of military force in the past fifteen years. No other military action has had such a low level of public support before it began. The only one that comes close is airstrikes against Serbia in 1999 for its actions in Kosovo. But even then opponents barely edged out supporters.

The Gallup poll does have some good news for the White House. Whereas the Pew and Post/ABC polls found Democrats opposed to airstrikes by wide margins, Gallup found that a slight majority of Democrats favored them (45 percent to 43 percent). So some Democrats have rallied to the president’s side, making it easier politically for Democratic lawmakers to vote to authorize military action.

But the Gallup poll also has bad news for the White House. It shows Republicans opposing military action by a margin of twenty-seven percentage points (58 to 31 percent), a far larger margin than either the Pew (5 percentage points) or Post/ABC (12 percentage points) polls. If that is a real trend, then Republican lawmakers are facing intensifying pressure to vote no on Syria.

President Obama will have his chance to change some minds when he addresses the nation next Tuesday. That could be a challenge. While Washington insiders love to talk about the president’s bully pulpit, a fair amount of political science research suggests that presidential speeches rarely move public opinion.