A Strike Against Syria Is Getting Drastically Less Popular

A new poll shows a huge spike in the number of Americans from the end of August to last week who oppose a U.S. attack on Syria.

Protesters against U.S. military action in Syria during a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington, Monday, Sept. 9, 2013. 
National Journal
Matt Berman
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Matt Berman
Sept. 9, 2013, 9:11 a.m.

Nearly two-thirds of Amer­ic­ans are op­posed to a U.S. strike against Syr­ia, ac­cord­ing to a poll out Monday from the Pew Re­search Cen­ter and USA Today. That’s a big dif­fer­ence from polling just a week ago, which showed that 48 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans op­posed a strike.

Here’s the com­par­at­ive break­down from Pew:

And so much for the idea that mat­ters of (sup­posed) na­tion­al se­cur­ity cross par­tis­an lines. The dif­fer­ence over last week is most pro­nounced among Re­pub­lic­ans, with a 30 per­cent jump in the num­ber op­posed:

A ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans (54 per­cent) also now say that the pres­id­ent has not ex­plained his ra­tionale for a strike clearly enough, present­ing Obama with a ser­i­ous chal­lenge when he ad­dresses the na­tion Tues­day night. At the same time, Amer­ic­ans are nearly evenly di­vided on wheth­er or not Syr­ia poses a threat to the United States, with 45 per­cent say­ing it does and 50 per­cent say­ing it does not.

The polling data, while a mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ence from last week, isn’t really sur­pris­ing. George Wash­ing­ton Uni­versity pro­fess­or Sarah Bind­er ad­dressed a lot of these is­sues in a post at The Mon­key Cage last week. On par­tis­an­ship, Bind­er sur­mised that, based on re­search, “war polit­ics in Con­gress might closely re­semble do­mest­ic le­gis­lat­ive battles.” Con­gresses have his­tor­ic­ally broken down by party on for­eign con­flicts, ac­cord­ing to re­search from Wil­li­am G. How­ell and Jon C. Peve­house.

On pub­lic opin­ion, Bind­er points to re­search from MIT’s Adam Ber­insky that shows the in­flu­ence elite opin­ion has on the pub­lic’s view of a war’s mer­its. “When polit­ic­al elites dis­agree as to the wis­dom of in­ter­ven­tion,” Ber­insky writes, “the pub­lic di­vides as well.”

But when elites come to a com­mon in­ter­pret­a­tion of a polit­ic­al real­ity, the pub­lic gives them great lat­it­ude to wage war.

Right now, elite opin­ion is nowhere near a com­mon in­ter­pret­a­tion. And from the looks of the Pew poll and a new poll out from CNN/ORC In­ter­na­tion­al, the pub­lic is a far dis­tance from giv­ing any­one lat­it­ude for any­thing.

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