Even Democrats doubt Obama has a strategy for Ukraine and Iraq

Even Democrats doubt Obama has a strategy for Ukraine and Iraq

Americans don't think Barack Obama has a clear plan for U.S. strategy in Iraq and Isis and are increasingly critical of his leadership

When President Barack Obama admitted at a press conference last week that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with ISIS in Iraq, Americans took him at his word.  But that’s not necessarily a good thing.  That statement may have highlighted weaknesses that the public sometimes sees in this president, including doubts about his leadership.  The percentage viewing the president as a strong leader has decreased during his incumbency; in this week’s poll, few think he has a clear plan for an American strategy in Iraq – or in Ukraine, either. 

Democrats, too, are dubious.  Less than a quarter of Democrats think that the president has a clear plan for a U.S. strategy in each of those places. 

The turmoil in Ukraine and in Iraq has clearly unnerved many Americans, and their opinions of the president continue to be mixed at best.  In fact, when it comes to his handling of the fighting between ISIS and the Iraq government, approval has dropped seven points in one week.  It has dropped 12 points among Democrats.

Approval of the president’s handling of other foreign policy crises is also down, but by less than the change in opinions about the Iraq conflict.   For example, last week, 33% approved of how the president was handling the conflict in Ukraine; this week, 29% approve.   As for the overall management of America foreign policy, President Obama received only a 31% approval rating.  Some Democrats have ceased to approve: 59% of Democrats this week approve of how the president is handling foreign policy, compared with 64% last week.

However, there isn’t much change in American views about what should be done in Iraq – overwhelming majorities reject a troop presence of any kind.  Just under half support drone strikes or air strikes, similar to opinions expressed last week.   

Republicans generally support more action in Iraq than Democrats do. Nearly a third of Republicans would send U.S. troops to help train the Iraqi military, and well over half support air strikes against ISIS. 

The president’s leadership is certainly being tested by recent foreign events, and the American public isn’t sure he is a strong leader.  In this week’s poll, less than half view him that way, and only 13% say he is “very strong.” 

The percentage that see the president as a strong leader is down slightly since early March, near the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine.  The number now describing him as “very weak” is up six points since then.

The president’s overall approval rating remains stuck in the low 40s – this week 42% approve of the way he is handling his job, and 54% disapprove.   There has been almost no movement in more than a year.  

And this week, nearly one in four Democrats say they disapprove of the president’s performance.  

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Update (03/09): a chart has been edited for clarity. 

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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Kathy Frankovic

KATHLEEN A. FRANKOVIC is one of the world’s leading experts in public opinion polling. She has been an election and polling consultant for CBS News and other research organizations.

She speaks and writes internationally about public opinion research, journalism and elections as an invited speaker in places as diverse as Italy, Jordan, Hong Kong, Manila, Mexico, Lisbon, Chile and India. In 2009 she retired after more than 30 years at CBS News.

She received an A.B. from Cornell University in 1968, and a Ph.D. in political science from Rutgers University in 1974. Before joining CBS News, she taught political science at the University of Vermont, and has also held visiting professorships at Cornell and at the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania.