Washington - Opposition to U.S. airstrikes against Syria is surging, a USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll finds, despite a White House campaign to convince Americans it is the right course ahead.
more than 2-1, 63%-28%, those surveyed Wednesday through Sunday say
they are against U.S. military action against the Syrian regime for its
reported use of chemical weapons against civilians. In the past week,
support has declined by a percentage point and opposition has swelled by
15 points, compared with a previous Pew Research poll.
President Obama prepares to address the nation Tuesday, he can see
damage the issue is doing to his own standing. He gets the lowest
ratings of his presidency on handling foreign policy, and Americans by
2-1 disapprove of his handling of the situation in Syria. His overall
approval rating has sagged to 44%-49%, the first time it has fallen into
negative territory in well over a year.
"This is a signal
moment," says political scientist Larry Jacobs of the University of
Minnesota. "On the one side is the kind of leadership of an historic
order. On the other side is a fairly deep doubting about American power -
and the power of this president."
Obama repeatedly has asserted
he has the authority to order the airstrikes even though he decided to
seek congressional authorization first. Despite record low ratings of
Congress, those surveyed say by 2-1 that Congress should have the final
authority for deciding whether military strikes should be launched.
hasn't been convinced. A USA TODAY Network survey of senators and
representatives released Monday showed just 44 lawmakers in favor of
military strikes and 149 against. A majority of both the House and
Senate were undecided.
In the new nationwide poll, a solid
majority, 54%-35%, says Obama hasn't explained clearly why the United
States should launch military strikes. The appraisal is more negative
than the one Americans gave former president George W. Bush in the
buildup to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
That presumably is one
reason Obama chose to schedule interviews with all the major television
networks Monday and to deliver a nationally televised speech from the
White House Tuesday night.
"Our survey last week suggested that
the administration still had an opportunity to make its case for
airstrikes, as one out of every four Americans had not yet formed an
opinion on the issue," says Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research
Center. "Despite their efforts, the new poll finds that nearly all of
that uncertainty has turned into opposition. Not only have Republicans
turned sharply against airstrikes in Syria, but Obama has not won over
support from Democrats, who continue to oppose the idea by a wide
Democrats oppose airstrikes by 53%-35%, Republicans by an overwhelming 70%-21%. Independents also are opposed, by 66%-28%.
Among all those surveyed, close to half, 45%, strongly oppose the airstrikes. Just 16% strongly favor them.
The telephone poll of 1,506 adults has a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.
The survey provides what could be a road map for what arguments are persuasive - and which are not:
•Six in 10 agree the United States must act to show the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable.
•Fifty-four percent say the United States has a moral obligation to stop violence against civilians.
•By 50%-45%, they don't see the situation in Syria as a threat to the security of the United States.
•The argument that the United States will lose credibility around the world if it doesn't act is rejected by most, 56%-39%.
more, three in four Americans say the airstrikes are likely to make the
situation in the Middle East worse. Six in 10 say there are "no good
options" for the United States in how to deal with Syria.