How to combat ISIS: support for air strikes, but not for sending troops

September 24, 2014, 1:06 PM UTC

The support Americans give to new military engagement in the Middle East extends to air strikes but not to troops on the ground or arming moderate Syrian rebels. 

In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, mostly completed before U.S. air strikes were launched against ISIS targets in Syria Monday night, the public opposes troop involvement and arms supplies, but overwhelmingly favors air strikes. 

Republicans continue to be much more in support when it comes to military action.   Party this may be because they are more likely to see an immediate threat from ISIS (56% of Republicans compared with 37% of Democrats say ISIS is an “immediate and serious” threat to the United States).   Republicans are more than three times as likely as Democrats to say a terrorist attack on the United States is “very likely” in the next 12 months (29% versus 8%).  In addition, Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to be following the news about Iraq very closely.  31% of Republicans say that, compared with 14% of Democrats. 

The GOP’s elevated concern about ISIS, and perhaps its greater attentiveness to news about Iraq appear to have affected opinions about military action.  80% of Republicans support U.S. air strikes against the Islamic State insurgents, and 58% strongly support that action.  Although more than seven in ten Democrats favor air strikes, their support is much more likely to be lukewarm.  Just a third of Democrats strongly support air strikes. 

Independents think more like Democrats than like Republicans on this question.  

Republicans would go much further than the President is willing to – at least as of now.  Six in ten Republicans would support the use of U.S. ground troops against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  Only a little more than a third of Democrats agree.  Independents are also opposed.

The President has not authorized the use of ground troops, but he and Congress have agreed to begin providing weapons to “moderate” Syrian rebels so that they can fight ISIS.  But that action gets even less support than sending U.S. ground troops.  Both Republicans and Democrats narrowly oppose sending weapons; independents oppose this action by an even greater margin. 

While Republicans may be the most attentive, majorities in all political groups are following news about Iraq at least somewhat closely.  And paying attention is related to support for action.  82% of those following news about Iraq very or somewhat closely favor air strikes, and nearly half support sending ground troops.  But even in this group there is opposition to arming the rebels: by 47% to 41% those following Iraq news very or somewhat closely oppose arming rebels. 

The President receives a mixed approval rating when it comes to his handling of the fighting between ISISI and the Iraq government, but there appears to have been some improvement in the assessment in the last week.   Disapproval, however, continues to outweigh approval. 

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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