from The Water's Edge

Do Americans Want Obama to Do More on Libya?

March 14, 2011

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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Protesters sits atop a wall during anti-Qaddafi demonstrations on March 14, 2011.
Protesters sits atop a wall during anti-Qaddafi demonstrations on March 14, 2011. (Suhaib Salem/courtesy Reuters)

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, which under the leadership of Andrew Kohut does some of the best public opinion polling around, is just in from the field with a new survey that provides some insight on whether Americans want President Obama to do more on Libya. The answer is “No.”

Pew provides a nice write up of the survey findings, so I will just hit the highlights. On the critical question of whether the United States has a responsibility to act in Libya, more than six out of ten Americans say no. The partisan differences are small, with majorities of Independents (67 percent), Republicans (65 percent), and Democrats (57 percent) all saying that the United States does not have responsibility.

Proposals to impose tougher sanctions on Libya draw the support of a bare majority (51 percent). The call for a no-fly zone, which former State Department Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter backed in today’s New York Times and Gen. Wesley Clark knocked in yesterday’s Washington Post, split the public, with 45 percent against and 44 percent for.

The latter numbers probably overstate public support for a no-fly zone and suggest that many Americans do not understand what it would entail. When asked if the United States should bomb Libyan air defenses, which would almost certainly happen if a no-fly zone were declared, 77 percent of those surveyed said no.

There looks to be bipartisan agreement that sending U.S. troops into Libya is a bad idea. Only 13 percent favored this option.

So whatever the merits or demerits of the administration’s response to the Libyan crisis, it looks to be in keeping with where the public is.

How do you read the Pew data?

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