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16 Mar, 2012

US Public Opinion in Disarray Over Waging War in Middle East


The latest Pew Research Centre poll of U.S. public opinion, released on March 15, indicates mass confusion about which war to wage in the Middle East. The results indicate public views supporting a pull-out from Afghanistan, not getting involved in Syria but in favour of starting another war by attacking Iran in order to protect Israel. There are huge divides between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and independents, supporters and opponents of Israel.

The results are from the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted March 7-11.  The analysis is based on telephone interviews of a national sample of 1,503 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (900 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 603 were interviewed on a cell phone.) The survey was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International.

A summary of the results follows. The full report can be downloaded here.

SYRIA: There is strong public sentiment against the United States intervening in the fighting in Syria between government forces and anti-government groups. Nearly two-thirds (64%) say the United States does not have a responsibility to do something about the conflict in Syria. Similar percentages oppose the U.S. and its allies bombing Syrian military forces to protect anti-government groups, as they did in Libya, and sending arms and military supplies to those fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

AFGHANISTAN: (Note: This survey was conducted before the killing of 16 Afghanistan civilians by a U.S. Army soldier was reported on March 11.)

Majorities of Democrats (69%) and independents (58%) continue to favor removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible. About half of Republicans (53%) favor keeping U.S. forces there until the situation is stabilized while 41% support removing the troops as soon as possible. Republican support for maintaining U.S. forces in Afghanistan has remained fairly steady over the past year. As was the case last June, moderate and liberal Republicans are more likely to favor an expeditious troop withdrawal than are conservative Republicans (51% vs. 35%).

IRAN: A majority (54%) of Americans say they are more concerned that the U.S. will take too long to act in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, while 35% are concerned that it will act too quickly. This is similar to public opinion in 2006 and 2007. This view also is consistent with the finding of a February survey in which 58% of the public said that preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is more important even if it means taking military action; 30% said preventing military conflict is more important even if it means Iran develops nuclear weapons.

There is a strong partisan divide in concerns about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. Democrats are about equally divided—44% say their concern is that the U.S. will act too quickly, 42% are more concerned the U.S. will wait too long.

In contrast, 75% of Republicans express concern that the U.S. will take too long to act, while just 17% say their greater concern is that the U.S. will act too quickly. Among Republicans, 81% of conservatives worry that the U.S. will wait too long; 64% of moderate and liberal Republicans share this concern. By a 52% to 37% margin, independents express more concern that the U.S. will wait too long.

The partisan divide extends to views on Obama’s handling of the Iran issue. While 47% of the public approves of his handling of Iran and 40% disapproves, Republicans disapprove by 66% to 23%. Democrats overwhelmingly approve of Obama’s handling of the issue – 70% to 19% – while independents are almost evenly divided.

ISRAEL: A plurality of the public (46%) says that U.S. support for Israel is about right; 22% say the U.S. is too supportive of Israel and a comparable percentage (20%) say it is not supportive enough. Republicans are more likely than Democrats or independents to say that the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel.

Nearly four-in-ten Republicans (38%) – and 48% of conservative Republicans –say that the United States is not supportive enough of Israel. Among other political groups, no more than about one-in-five say the U.S. is insufficiently supportive.

White evangelical Protestants are far more likely than other religious groups to say that the U.S. has not been supportive enough of Israel. Four-in-ten (40%) say the U.S. is not supportive enough while about as many (39%) say the level of support is about right. Among other religious groups, majorities of pluralities say U.S. support for Israel is about right.

Partisan differences over Israel were evident in a February survey that asked whether the U.S. should support Israel if it decided to attack Iranian nuclear facilities. The possibility of Israel launching such an attack was reported to be a matter of discussion when Obama met with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu on March 5.

While 51% of Americans overall said in the February survey the U.S. should remain neutral if Israel launched an attack, 62% of Republicans said the administration should support such an action while just 34% preferred neutrality. A third of Democrats and independents said the U.S. should support Israel in such an instance.