The Syrian Dilemma Revisited

January 29, 2014, 12:14 PM GMT+0

While Americans remain skeptical of a US role in Syria, approval of President Obama's handling of the issue is up since last last fall.

Americans continue to be hesitant about action to help rebels in Syria, just as they have been since the conflict there began. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the United States does not have any responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria between rebels there and the government forces.

There is little support for action from any political or social group: majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents, men and women, the old and the young say the U.S. has no specific responsibility to do anything. And many Americans are not sure which side to support: although more than twice as many believe the rebels should win as think the Syrian government should prevail, 60% say they don’t know which side to favor.

Just over half the public supports humanitarian aid to Syria, but no other suggested action – even those not requiring a military response -- gets overwhelming support when it comes to international action. Four in ten would assist refugee evacuation and enforce sanctions against the government. There is little support for military intervention of any kind: a third would support an internationally organized “no fly” zone, but barely one in ten favor airstrikes against government positions.

Bashar al-Assad

Americans have become hesitant about military action in general (many have said in polls that the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq weren’t worth the costs, and there is little interest in additional engagement in the Middle East). However, there is no love for the current Syrian regime: two in three have unfavorable views of the current President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, and nearly three in four view the country as unfriendly or as an enemy of the United States.

Perceptions of Syria as an enemy have faded hardly at all since last September. Then, as President Obama was considering an air attack on Syrian government positions in response to the Syrian military’s apparent use of chemical weapons against its own people, 40% thought of Syria as an enemy, just six points higher than say so today. As that poll was being conducted, the U.S. and Russia had just agreed on a framework to remove chemical weapons from Syrian control.

President Obama and Syria

Objection to a possible Americans attack on Syrian government positions last fall caused many Americans to disapprove of the way President Obama was dealing with the situation. It also appeared to have impacted assessment of his overall performance. The overall approval rating for the President dropped to 38%, and barely a quarter approved of how he was handling the situation in Syria. Now, with international negotiations taking place and with a much lower likelihood of American military action, Americans feel a little better about the President’s performance, though they remain negative. Nearly a third now approve of how the President is handling Syria, and fewer than half disapprove.

For many, it appears that Syria is fading from the public mind. A quarter offer no opinion about the President’s management of the situation.

The Syrian crisis last fall helped lower the President’s overall approval rating. There has been recovery since. Since December, 40% or more have approved of the way Barack Obama is handling his overall job in each week’s Economist/YouGov Poll, with about half disapproving. His current 45% approval rating (in polls conducted this week and last) returns him to his overall standing last spring, just a few months after his second Inauguration.

Image: Getty

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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