Jewish Journal


What Americans Really Think About Syria- Part 3

by Shmuel Rosner

May 30, 2013 | 8:25 am

Demonstrators wave Syrian opposition flags during a
protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at
the courtyard of Fatih mosque in Istanbul May 24, 2013.
Photo by Reuters/Murad Sezer.

In parts 1 and 2 of “what Americans really think about Syria” we concluded, based on several polls, that “Obama is on safe ground as he decides to ignore the red line he drew, a line he didn’t quite intend to draw”. We can now present you with an updated table of recent polls – not all of them, but a few from recent days.

We added two new polls, from CNN and Fox News and added the answers to our existing categories. A note of caution: the categories aren’t perfect. We divided the questions by their general subjects, but the wording can still be very different. Hence, what we have here is an attempt to look at trends and examine general attitudes, trends and attitudes which are open for debate and interpretation. Still, we think that some comparisons between polls are interesting and even illuminating. And we will keep following such polls to see how precise we are in our description of American attitudes toward was in Syria.

Take a look at the table, followed by comments:


The Poll \ question

YouGov, April 30

Reuters/Ispos, May 1

Pew, April 28

NYT-CBS, April 28

CNN-ORC, May 17-18

FoxNews, May 18-20

Aid to rebels

12% (51% no)






Air strikes

16% (49% no)






Sending troops

5% (68% no)






Become involved


10% (61% no)


24% (62%)


23% (68% no)

If chemicals are used


27% (44%)

45% (31% no)


66% (30% not justified)


Were chemicals used

40% (6% no)























Should the US involve itself in the Syrian mess? The answer to this question didn’t change much between the NYT poll of April 28 and the Fox poll of May 18. About a quarter of Americans were for involvement, but the vast majority said no. We should factor in the way the Fox question was asked. Take a look:

Which of the following positions on Syria is closer to you own?

1. The U.S. should be more involved in Syria because there's a humanitarian crisis there and because it is a strategically important country.

2. The U.S. should NOT do more in Syria because it’s a civil war that’s a no-win situation for the U.S., and we could actually end up helping anti-American extremist groups.

3. (Don’t know)

Obviously, this is a problematic way of asking the question. What if I think that there is a humanitarian crisis in Syria but do not believe that Syria is a “strategically important country”? It leaves me with no options for an answer. And what if I think it is a civil war, but I still believe it’s winnable for the US? When the NYT asked the question- which we decided to categorize as an “involvement” question- they did it by simply asking: “Do you think the United States has a responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria between government forces and anti-government groups, or doesn't the United States have this responsibility?”

Of course, asking about “responsibility” is also somewhat tricky. Does saying that the US has the “responsibility” mean that you also support action? Before you answer, take a look at the CNN question – a question that we put under the “If chemicals are used” category:

If the United States were able to present evidence that convinced you that the Syrian government has chemical weapons and has used them to kill civilians in that country, do you think the U.S. would or would not be justified in using military action against the Syrian government?

66% answered this question by saying that the US would be “justified”. Obviously, most of these Americans still don’t support “action”. They see how it’s justified but still don’t want it. How do we know that? Bear with me – this will be a little more complicated:

  1. We already said that when questions of “involvement” are asked, support for more involvement is still low – around one quarter of Americans.
  2. We see (in the CNN poll) a huge increase in the number of Americans who currently believe that the Syrian government used chemicals against civilians – an increase from 40% (YouGov poll, April) to 83% (CNN).
  3. So the fact that Americans believe the worst about the Syrian regime still doesn’t make them want more involvement.
  4. Moreover, while 83% of them believe that chemical weapons were used and 66% of them think that if this is the case the US would be “justified in using military action”, only 23% say that “the U.S. should be more involved in Syria because there's a humanitarian crisis”. This points to what we just said: the fact that Americans think that action would be “justified” doesn’t yet mean they want it. 

Two interesting questions:

What would happen to public perception if Americans start seeing the Syrian war as one in which “they” – namely Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Assad – are winning (see the article by Elliot Abrams to get more on that angle)?

What would happen to public perception if the internal Syrian conflict becomes a larger war involving Israel (as a consequence of an Israeli attack on Syrian missiles)?

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