The Wall Street Journal and NBC News are out with a new poll this morning on American public attitudes on using military force against ISIS. Like the Washington Post/ABC News poll released yesterday, it finds strong public support for air strikes and skepticism of President Obama’s handling of foreign policy. Beyond that, however, Americans remain cool toward a deeper military commitment in the Middle East and toward an activist U.S. foreign policy more broadly.
The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows 74 percent of Americans favoring air strikes against ISIS. That’s actually thirteen points higher than the percentage of the public that says “taking action in Iraq and Syria is in our national interest.” But broad support for military action stops at air strikes. Just 34 percent favors complementing the air strikes by putting “American combat troops on the ground.”
The fact that U.S. policy over the past month has been in keeping with public opinion has not benefitted President Obama personally, however. Just 32 percent of Americans approve of his handling of foreign policy. That’s eight percentage points lower than his overall public approval rating, and the lowest of his presidency. Not surprisingly, the Republican Party has benefitted from growing doubts about Obama’s foreign policy performance. The GOP now holds an eighteen point margin (41 to 23 percent) when it comes to which political party the public trusts more to deal with foreign policy.
Overall, the public’s support for airstrikes does not signal a new enthusiasm for foreign policy. Twenty-seven percent of Americans now say they favor a more active U.S. role in the world. That’s eight percentage points higher than when the question was last asked in April. But most Americans still want the United States to be either less active (40 percent) or to continue its current level of activity (29 percent). And the public’s message to Washington continues to be: focus first and foremost on problems at home. When asked whether domestic or international issues are more important for their vote for Congress in November, Americans picked domestic issues by nearly a three to one margin (64 percent to 22 percent).