Americans support the president's ISIS policy – but not the president

September 18, 2014, 1:53 PM GMT+0

Most people continue to disapprove of Obama's response to the ISIS threat, even as they support the actions he has taken to counter it

Although the President now has public support for air strikes in Iraq – and even more support for military involvement from Republicans against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, his speech to the nation last Wednesday did little to improve his own image. In the weekend Economist/YouGov Poll, only 40% approve of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as President, and just 35% approve of the way he is handling the fighting between ISIS rebels and the Iraq government.

Last week, both approval ratings were essentially the same as they are today.

The President’s message last Wednesday – that the U.S. would “dismantle and ultimately destroy” ISIS in Iraq and Syria – has been accepted by the American public, but more so by Republicans than Democrats. Just about half overall say the United States should be using air strikes against ISIS rebels in both Iraq and Syria, though Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats to say these are things the U.S. “should” do.

Unlike so many presidential initiatives, there is little opposition to air strikes against ISIS. In fact only one in ten Republicans want their Congressional Representative to cast a vote against authorizing the use of military force. This is an issue where the President’s position receives more support from Republicans than Democrats. Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to oppose the use of military force.

Congressional authorization

But both parties want Congress to weigh in on military action. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives may have gone even further than most Americans would, authorizing training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels to fight ISIS. Just 28% of Americans in the poll said the U.S. should train Iraqi troops.

Members of both parties were equally likely to watch Wednesday’s speech, although only a third of the public claim to have viewed it. But those who watched are even more supportive of military action than those who did not. 61% of those who watched the speech supported a Congressional vote in favor of military action; just 21% opposed it.

The Iraq withdrawal

Americans are still fairly certain that the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was wrong, and the decision to withdraw those troops in 2011 was correct. But there has been some reassessment and narrowing in the last week, especially when it comes to evaluating the 2011 withdrawal. Now more than a third think that action was a mistake. Opinions of Republicans and Democrats have changed little in the last week, but the views of independents have changed. Last week, a plurality of independents said the 2011 troop withdrawal was not a mistake. This week, independents divide very closely, narrowly saying that decision was an error.

Support for his policy against ISIS has gained President Obama little, and not just in terms of overall approval. His actions appear to have changed no minds when it comes to evaluations of him as a leader. This week, six in ten say the President is a weak leader, just about the same percentage that said that last week before his address to the country.

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

Image: PA