The latest NBC News poll (conducted jointly by Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research on August 28-29) sheds significant light on American attitudes toward potential military action against the government of Syria, but does little to clarify it.
First, consider the political environment:
- President Obama has little political capital. His approval score is 44% approve/48% disapprove, with just 41% approving of the way he’s handling foreign policy, and even fewer Americans (35%) approving of the job he’s doing handling the situation in Syria.
Next, there is little appetite for US military action against the Syrian government:
- Just 42% of Americans support US military action against the Syrian government in response to the use of chemical weapons.
- Interestingly, there is little partisan difference, as 46% of Democrats and 41% of GOP’ers support military action.
Yet, support for a limited cruise missile strike hits the 50% mark:
- The cruise missile approach is supported by 51% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans, but attitudes are still nearly evenly divided, with Independents supporting the action by a narrow 48%-45% margin.
Despite the fact that Americans believe the use of chemical weapons is a “red line” that would require a “significant US response”…
- By a 58%-35% margin, Americans believe the use of chemical weapons requires a significant US response, including more than 60% of both Republicans and Democrats.
Few Americans believe that taking military action against the Syrian government is in our national interest…
- Just 21% of Americans believe that taking military action against the Syrian government is in our national interest (19% of D’s and 26% of R’s).
And, there is no consensus that taking military action will improve the situation for Syrian civilians:
- Just 27% say that taking military action against the Syrian government will help civilians in that country, while 41% disagree, and another 31% are undecided.
The ONLY aspect of this potential military action that meets with overwhelming consensus is that President Obama should be required to receive approval from Congress prior to taking military action.
- By a 79%-16% margin, Americans believe the President should be required to receive Congressional approval before taking military action.
While Americans believe the use of chemical weapons by any country crosses a line that requires US military action, few believe that taking military action against the Syrian government is in our national interest or will even help Syrian civilians.
Seeking Congressional approval for taking military action against the government of Syria is at once the path of least (public) resistance, while also one of significant public risk for a President whose approval scores already threaten his second term agenda.
President Obama does not just need to convince Congress, but also the American public. Across party lines, Americans are war-weary and skeptical that U.S. military action will both improve the situation in Syria and be in the national interest.