The latest Reason-Rupe poll finds 66 percent of Americans favor airstrikes against Islamic State militants, also known as ISIS, in Iraq and Syria, while 28 percent oppose. However, committing ground troops is far more controversial. A slim majority—52 percent—opposes sending ground troops to combat ISIS, while 43 percent would support it.
If the US does send ground troops, Americans are divided over how many will be necessary. A third say troops will not be necessary, but 34 percent say the US will need to send a large number of troops and 24 percent say a small number.
Perhaps one reason Americans favor airstrikes but oppose sending ground troops is they believe military action against ISIS will last about 2 years. Few also think the previous military intervention in Iraq made America safer. Only 14 percent believe the 2003 Iraq War reduced the threat of terrorism in the US, 83 percent think it failed to make America safer. In fact 38 percent go so far to say the Iraq War made the US less safe.
Support for airstrikes against ISIS extends beyond partisanship, although Independents are most likely to oppose (37%), followed by Democrats (31%) and Republicans are least likely to oppose (20%). The use of military force also divides conservatives from Americans who lean libertarian. Only 11 percent of conservatives oppose the use of airstrikes, compared to 28 percent of libertarians.
Republicans are the only political group in which a majority (57%) supports sending troops to combat ISIS, even though a majority (51%) also expects it would last 4 years or more. In contrast, only 35 percent of independents and 37 percent of Democrats support boots on the ground. Tea party Republicans seem to be driving some of this difference: 59 percent of tea party supporters favor sending troops, compared to 48 percent of Republicans who don't support the tea party.
Not only do Republicans favor sending troops back to Iraq, but a plurality (45%) believe it would be necessary to send a large number of troops, while 25 percent think a small number and 21 percent think it won't be necessary to send troops. In reverse fashion, a plurality of independents and Democrats say troops wouldn't be necessary (38%), and 20 percent say a small number, and 27 percent think a large number would be needed.
Significant differences emerge across age groups, with younger people more averse to military intervention in general. A majority (51%) of 18-29 year olds actually oppose the use of airstrikes, and 39 percent favor. However, majorities of subsequently older age groups support such a military action, including 62 percent of 30-44 year olds and roughly 80 percent of those over 45. Majorities of all age groups oppose sending ground troops, but young Americans are about nearly half as likely as Americans over 55 to say a large number of troops would be necessary (25 to 42 percent respectively).
The Reason-Rupe national telephone poll, executed by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, conducted live interviews with 1004 adults on cell phones (503) and landlines (501) October 1-6, 2014. The poll's margin of error is +/-3.8%. Full poll results can be found here. including poll toplines (pdf) and crosstabs (xls).