Embassies 'important', but some seen as unsafe

July 29, 2014, 7:19 PM GMT+0

Americans fear embassies in several countries are too dangerous to keep open, while approval of President Obama's handling of foreign policy dips

While nearly all Americans believe it is important for the United States to maintain embassies and consulates around the world, there are some places that might be too dangerous -- and sometimes the right thing to do is to evacuate American personnel.

According to the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, Libya is one of those places.

Support for the evacuation of American personnel from Tripoli meets with bi-partisan approval (the poll was conducted over the weekend, beginning soon after the announcement of the withdrawal). Only about half of respondents had heard the news, and those that had were overwhelmingly in support of the action by more than ten to one, 84% to 8%.

American diplomats in Libya were perceived to be at risk from the current fighting between rival factions (some of which was taking place near the Embassy). And the U.S. joined other countries in withdrawing their diplomatic staffs. But for Americans, the current fighting was also a reminder of the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya which caused the death of four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya.

Opinions on that Benghazi attack still resonate politically. 44% think the Administration deliberately misled the public about the attacks (which were first said to be a spontaneous reaction to a video instead of a deliberate attack). And Americans are divided when it comes to whether or not they have confidence that the Administration will take the right steps to prevent future attacks.

As in previous polls, opinion of Democrats and Republicans on Benghazi differ dramatically. Most Democrats doubt the Administration deliberately misled the public; 81% of Republicans believe it did. And while Democrats are confident the steps taken in response to Benghazi will work, Republicans are not.

Beyond Benghazi

But while Americans want a U.S. presence overseas, majorities worry that many places are too dangerous – and not just Libya. Half also say it’s too dangerous to keep American embassies open in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Nearly half say that about a U.S. Embassy in Pakistan. A third that that’s true of Lebanon and Egypt. Nearly as many think it is too dangerous to have an embassy in Israel, though a majority disagree.

Perceptions of where it is safe and where it is not are similar among Republicans and Democrats.

The Obama Administration today is not just dealing with problems in Libya – the crisis in Ukraine, and the fighting in the Middle East are also having an impact on perceptions of its foreign policy performance and even the overall job rating for the President is suffering. Just 31% approve of President Obama’s handling of foreign policy, down from 37% last week. A majority disapproves.

As for the President’s overall approval, it is at one of its lowest ratings in months. Just 38% approve of the way Barack Obama is handling his job. 57% disapprove. In the last few months it had appeared the President had recovered from the low ratings he received last fall, during the troubled launch of the health care exchanges.

But now there are worries about foreign policy. Barely a third approve of his handling of the war in Afghanistan, and just 38% approve of his handling of terrorism. Majorities also disapprove of his handling of domestic issues like the economy and immigration. These problems have all taken a toll on overall perceptions this week.

Image: Getty

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.