PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans remain opposed to closing the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba and moving some of the terrorist suspects being held there to U.S. prisons: 30% favor such actions, while 64% do not. These attitudes could present a significant roadblock for President Obama at a time when he seeks congressional approval to move terrorist suspects from Guantanamo to a converted state prison in northwestern Illinois.
President Obama signed an executive order after his inauguration that called for the closing of Guantanamo, and he recently reiterated his commitment to doing this in his West Point speech on Afghanistan. The plans announced this week represent the first concrete effort to follow through on his promise, but occur in the context of continuing opposition from the American public. About two-thirds of Americans in the Nov. 20-22 poll oppose such a move, virtually the same as measured last May.
"An additional political challenge for Obama is the fact that he lacks strong support among rank-and-file Democrats as well. Half of Democrats agree that the Guantanamo Bay prison should be closed and some prisoners moved to the U.S., while 45% disagree."
Republicans on Capitol Hill this week have been highly vocal in their negative responses to the proposed move. Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for example, was quoted as saying, "The administration has failed to explain how transferring terrorists to Gitmo North will make Americans safer than keeping terrorists off of our shores in the secure facility in Cuba."
McConnell and the other GOP lawmakers who have spoken out against the move are clearly representing the sentiments of rank-and-file Republicans across the country, only 8% of whom favor closing the prison and moving prisoners to the U.S.
An additional political challenge for Obama is the fact that he lacks strong support among rank-and-file Democrats as well. Half of Democrats agree that the Guantanamo Bay prison should be closed and some prisoners moved to the U.S., while 45% disagree. Twenty-eight percent of independents favor the prison closure. These partisan breaks are similar to what Gallup found in May.
The prison the Obama administration has proposed taking over and converting to a home for Guantanamo terrorist suspects is in northwestern Illinois, across the Mississippi River from Iowa. Local leaders in that area have applauded the decision, which would reportedly bring hundreds of millions in new revenue to the region, along with many new jobs.
The area potentially affected by the moves is a small part of the larger Midwestern region of the country, where there is slightly higher acceptance of the decision on Guantanamo prisoners than occurs elsewhere in the country. Support is slightly lower in the South. These differences are not substantial.
President Obama's announcement this week that he plans to move terrorist suspects to Illinois from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay represents a follow-through on his stated intention to ultimately close the Guantanamo prison.
The implementation of his plan will require congressional approval, since current law prohibits bringing Guantanamo prisoners into U.S. territory unless they are being put on trial. Congressional lawmakers voting on the plan to bring terrorist suspects now housed at Guantanamo to the U.S. will generally be doing so in the context of significant opposition from their constituents, thus potentially reducing the chances that the president will be able to get quick House and Senate approval for his proposal.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,017 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 20-22, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.