PRINCETON, NJ -- The slight majority of Americans -- 54% -- disapprove of the Obama administration's decision to send direct military aid to Syrian rebels fighting against the Syrian government, while 37% approve. Those who are following the situation in Syria closely -- about half of the public -- are significantly more likely to approve of the decision than are those who are not following the situation closely, although a majority of both groups disapprove.
These results are from a June 15-16 Gallup poll conducted just after the Obama administration announced that it directed the CIA to provide direct military aid to the Syrian rebels. Prior to this announcement last Friday, the administration had been opposed to providing military aid. The administration stated that part of its rationale for the shift in policy was its conclusion that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against the rebels.
Late last month, Gallup asked Americans about U.S. intervention in Syria; the question focused on the United States' taking "military action" in the event economic and diplomatic actions failed to end the civil war there. Sixty-eight percent of Americans were opposed to the proposal, somewhat higher than the percentage who oppose President Barack Obama's decision to supply direct military aid to the rebels.
Despite the major news focus on Syria, the 48% of Americans who are following the situation in Syria very or somewhat closely is well below the 60% average for all news stories Gallup has measured in recent decades. Thus, it is not clear to what extent Americans are conversant with the complex situation in Syria, including the alliances of support from other countries for the government and for the rebels. Among those who are following the news of the Syrian situation closely, 44% approve and 51% disapprove of providing military aid to the rebels, more positive than the attitudes of those paying less attention -- 31% approve vs. 57% disapprove.
Democrats Most Likely to Favor Providing Aid to the Syrian Rebels
A slight majority of Democrats (51%) approve of the provision of military aid to the Syrian rebels, no doubt reflecting the fact that the decision to do so was made by a Democratic president, although more than four in 10 Democrats disapprove. Independents and Republicans react much more negatively, with roughly six in 10 disapproving.
Republicans' disapproval may be tied as much to their general opposition to Obama as to the policy itself, given that some Republican leaders, most notably Sen. John McCain, have come out publicly in favor of assisting the rebel fighters in Syria.
Americans typically do not closely follow news events involving foreign countries, and the situation in Syria -- with a relatively low 48% of Americans following it at least somewhat closely -- is no exception. Thus, it is possible that if Americans become more focused on the situation in Syria -- and as the administration and others explain more of the rationale for U.S. involvement there -- attitudes could shift more in the administration's direction.
The survey did not ask Americans to explain why they approve or disapprove of the decision. McCain has argued that the administration policy does not go far enough or provide enough aid. Thus, it is possible that some of the disapproval reflects these types of more hawkish sentiment, rather than the more straightforward opposition stemming from a desire for the U.S. to simply stay out of the situation there altogether.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 15-16, 2013, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,015 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.