In President Obama's speech tonight, he will attempt to persuade lawmakers and the American public that airstrikes against Syrian miltiary targets are necessary to respond to reports that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its civilians. However, polls consistently find the American public is opposed to intervening in the two year long Syrian civil war, especially without international support. Nevertheless President Obama has argued that:
"Failing to respond to this outrageous attack would increase the risk that chemical weapons could be used again; that they would fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against us, and it would send a horrible signal to other nations that there would be no consequences for their use of these weapons."'
Despite the President's calls for action, 64 percent of the American public do not believe military action is necessary to protect American credibility or national security, the latest Reason-Rupe poll finds.
To be clear, the American public does believe the international community has a responsibility to respond in some way to the reports of Syrian chemical weapon use; however, that doesn't necessarily imply they endorse military force. Instead, Americans are skeptical that US intervention would improve the situation for Syrian civilians, fear a backlash against the US, and worry that taking targeted military action today could lead to US troops on the ground in Syria in the future. These reasons likely explain why three-fourths of Americans say it would be unwise for the US to unilaterally strike Syria, without the UN or Great Britain. At the same time, even with other countries' support, a majority of Americans oppose intervention.
Throughout most of Obama's tenure as president, a majority has favored his handling of foreign policy. However, in recent weeks, disapproval of Obama's general job performance and handling of foreign policy has shot up to 51 and 58 percent respectively.
Perhaps more devastating to the Obama administration is that only a third of Americans say the president is handling foreign policy better than predecessor and oft-criticized George W. Bush. Partisanship clearly plays a role in how Americans perceive Obama's handling of foreign policy. Fifty-five percent of Republicans, 33 percent of independents and 12 percent of Democrats, feel President Obama is handling foreign policy worse than former President Bush did.Twenty-nine percent of Democrats, 34 percent of Republicans and 35 percent of Independents believe President Obama is handling foreign policy the same as President Bush did. In contrast 56 percent of Democrats, 27 percent of Independents, and 8 percent of Republicans say Obama has better handled foreign policy than his predecessor.
Post Iraq, Libya and Egypt, it's hardly surprising that nearly half of Americans believe the DC political establishment is more inclined toward foreign intervention. In fact, 57 percent of Independents, 52 percent of women, and 51 percent of fiscal conservatives all perceive Washington insiders as more likely to favor foreign intervention than regular Americans.
As President Obama prepares to address the American public tonight in efforts to persuade and mobilize Congress to approve authorization of airstrikes against Syria, he faces an uphill battle. These results from the latest Reason-Rupe poll demonstrate the difficulty the President faces in convincing the public that intervention is necessary for national credibility and security and that it can be effective even without international support.
Nationwide telephone poll conducted September 4-8 2013 interviewed 1013 adults on both mobile (509) and landline (504) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.7%. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results found here. Full methodology can be found here.