May 6, 2013
What Americans Really Think About Syria, Part 2
In the table below you can find the results of four American public opinion polls concerning a possible intervention in Syria. While each one of the four has its own way of asking the question, an interesting picture can be drawn based on all of them.
Just to make sure you understand what you see: on the right column you have the topic of the question – not the exact framing. For example, the NYT-CBS poll asked: “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?”. In our table this is marked as a “become involved” question (since there are no conditions mentioned). The PEW poll was more specific and asked about intervention in case chemicals were used by the Syrians and the Reuters poll also asked (a slightly different question) about a case in which chemicals are used – so both are under the “if chemicals are used” category. Take a look (and then read the subsequent comments):
The Reuters and NYT polls asked about involvement and were both answered by an unequivocal “no” from a majority of respondents. When the question emphasizes the meddling aspect of the policy, the American people have their answer ready for us – no more Middle East wars of regime change and democracy building.
In the earlier PEW poll people seemed much more willing to get involved if chemicals are used. In the later YouGov poll the numbers are dramatically different. Naturally, more Americans are still willing to do something in this case than in the case of no chemicals, but the numbers of supporters of action in either scenario are still small. It is possible that the PEW number is the odd one out because of the way their question was framed (see my previous analysis of this poll).
Some reasonable conclusions:
Obama is on safe ground as he decides to ignore the red line he drew, a line he didn’t quite intend to draw.
His attempt to not quite acknowledge the use of chemical weapons in Syria is both lame and unnecessary. Americans are gradually becoming convinced that chemicals were used, and still wouldn't like to see American intervention.
I assume that most Americans would gladly support the only measure currently taken by the administration- backing Israel’s action in Syria (but there are no polls asking a question about this at the moment). Why? Because they feel that something probably needs to be done, but are very reluctant when it comes to US action (of course, what Israel did in Syria was purely about keeping Israel’s security).
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