Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey

Poll: If We Arm Syrian Rebels Americans Say 78% Chance Weapons Will Be Used Against US Eventually

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Americans are becoming increasingly skeptical that strategic US military interventions abroad won't eventually backfire. The latest Reason-Rupe poll finds that 55 percent of Americans oppose arming Syrian rebels in efforts to fight against ISIS, while 35 percent support such action.

One reason Americans oppose sending weapons to the rebels may be that they believe there's a 78 percent chance those weapons will eventually be turned around and used against American soldiers or US allies.

Public reluctance to arm Syrian rebels to fight ISIS may be indicative of a broader hesitancy to be as involved in the Middle Eastern region. Reason-Rupe finds only 28 percent of Americans want to increase US military presence around the world. Another 36 percent want to decrease American global military presence, and another third are content with the status quo.

Perhaps one reason Americans aren't more supportive of expanding US involvement is disillusionment with US handling of the 2003 Iraq War. Only 14 percent believe the war actually reduced the threat of terrorism; another 38 percent think it instigated even more terrorism. Forty-five percent think the Iraq war had little effect protecting US citizens from terrorist threats.

Foreign policy hawkishness cuts across demographic groups and party lines but is certainly more pronounced among Republicans. In fact, Republicans are nearly twice as likely as both Democrats and independents to favor increasing US military presence abroad (41% versus 20% and 26% respectively). In reverse, Democrats and independents are almost twice as likely as Republicans to want to decreasemilitary presence (42% and 39% versus 25% respectively.)

Consistent with findings that young people are the only group to oppose air strikes against ISIS, Americans under 34 are about half as likely (21%) as Americans over 55 (37%) to desire an expanded global military presence. Instead, 41 percent of younger Americans want to reduce US military presence abroad compared to 27 percent of those over 55. A third of both groups support the status quo.

Opposition to arming Syrian rebels, however, is generally non-partisan. Sixty-one percent of Republicans, 58 percent of independents, and 51 percent of Democrats oppose the US providing weapons to rebel groups to fight ISIS.

Again, younger people are more skeptical of intervention. Only 28 percent of 18-29 year olds support arming Syrian rebels, and 62 percent oppose doing so. In contrast, 45 percent of seniors favor providing weapons and 47 percent oppose.

Americans are beginning to believe there are limits to the US's ability to engineer favorable outcomes through military interventions abroad. There are fears that weapons we provide to assumed allies will be the very weapons we are fighting against in the future. There are also serious concerns that our past military strategies have not achieved their desired outcomes, and have not reduced the threat of terrorism.

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). 

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