from The Water's Edge

What Do Americans Think About Libya Now?

September 8, 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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A damaged poster of ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is seen in Tripoli September 7, 2011. Picture taken September 7, 2011. REUTERS/Anis Mili
A damaged poster of ousted Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi is seen in Tripoli on September 7, 2011. (Anis Mili/courtesy Reuters)

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press just released the results of a new survey asking Americans what they think of the military intervention in Libya. The upshot is that Muammar al-Qaddafi’s ouster hasn’t made the public more enthusiastic about the mission.

The specifics:

  •  Forty-four percent say the airstrikes were the right decision, compared to 33 percent who say it was the wrong one. When Operation Odyssey Dawn started 50 percent favored the airstrikes and 37 percent opposed them. Given the sampling errors inherent in survey work, these numbers suggest that public attitudes are essentially unchanged.
  • Democrats, Independents, and Republicans look alike when it comes to the question of whether airstrikes were the right idea. But they disagree on how well President Obama has handled the Libya situation: 64 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Independents approve, but only 30 percent of Republicans do.  This difference could reflect the fact that many Republicans wanted Obama to do more sooner on Libya—think Rick Santorum’s comments at last night’s GOP presidential debate—or it could just reflect the fact that Republicans aren’t fans of the president.
  • The public was never terribly interested in Libya—only 37 percent say they tracked the news about NATO’s airstrikes very closely when the operation began. They have gotten less interested over time. Now only 17 percent say they are following news out of Libya closely.

The Pew survey doesn’t suggest any reason to believe that Operation Odyssey Dawn has hurt Obama politically. But it also doesn’t suggest that toppling Qaddafi has helped him either.

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