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Public Support for U.S. Involvement in Yugoslavia Lower Than for Gulf War, Other Foreign Engagements


Public support for U.S. involvement in the Yugoslavian conflict is at the low end of the historical spectrum when compared to public opinion about other U.S. foreign interventions of the past two decades.

Each situation overseas in which the U.S. is involved is unique, and the questions asked by Gallup over the years tend to vary to take into account the particular facets of each engagement. In general, however, it is clear that several U.S. military campaigns of this decade have engendered initial public reaction which is much more supportive than the initial reaction being given to the current Yugoslavian mission. At the same time, other U.S. military interventions, particularly those involving ground troops, have generated about the same level of support as the current situation.

The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll on Kosovo, conducted late last week, indicates that 50% of Americans favor U.S. participation in the NATO air attacks against Serbian positions, while 39 % oppose them, with the rest having no opinion.

Fairly close comparisons can be made to two other air strikes in which the U.S. participated during 1998 and for which support was significantly higher. These include strikes against terrorist positions in Afghanistan and Sudan in August of last year, for which approval was 66%, and additional strikes against Saddam Hussein in Iraq last December, for which support was even higher, at 74%.

The military engagement with the highest public approval of the last two decades was the Persian Gulf War of 1991. About 80% of the U.S. public approved of the initiation of the air attacks in January of 1991, and a slightly higher percentage approved of the initiation of the ground war a month later. The Iraqi situation, of course, had a much more highly publicized build-up than the current Kosovo situation, with half a million troops having been moved into Saudi Arabia in the months leading up to the actual beginning of hostilities per se, as well as highly publicized UN and congressional resolutions, and an extraordinary amount of preinvasion discussion and justification by then-President George Bush and other government officials.

On the other hand, in a number of different situations-primarily involving the actual introduction of U.S. troops-there have been levels of support more in line with the current support for the Yugoslavian air strikes. In 1982, only about half of the public approved of the sending of U.S. troops to Beirut, Lebanon, and about the same percentage approved of the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983. In 1994, only 46% of Americans initially approved of U.S. troops being moved to Haiti.

Particularly germane to the current situation is the fact that only 41% of the public approved the introduction of U.S. troops into Bosnia for a peacekeeping role in 1995. That percentage has risen slightly since that time, to 53% in January of last year, but the relatively low levels of support for this role, coupled with the 50% approval of the current U.S. air involvement against the Serbian military, may suggest that Americans have a generally cautious attitude about any involvement in the Balkans region of the world.

For results based on the March 25, 1999 sample of national adults (N=675) the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points. Polls conducted entirely in one day are subject to additional error or bias not found in polls conducted over several days.

As you may know, yesterday the military alliance of Western countries called NATO, launched air and missile attacks against Serbian military targets in Yugoslavia. Do you favor or oppose the United States being a part of that military action

  Favor Oppose No opinion
99 Mar 25 50% 39% 11%
99 Mar 19-21^ 46 43 11
99 Feb 19-21^ 43 45 12
98 Oct 9-12** 42 41 17
^ Question Wording: "If a peace agreement is not reached between the Yugoslavian Serbs and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, NATO has said it would carry out air and missile attacks against Serb military installations. Would you favor or oppose the U.S. being a part of that military action?

** Question Wording: "Based on what you have read or heard, do you think the United States and its Western European allies should or should not conduct military air strikes against the Serbian forces in Kosovo?

For results based on the December 16, 1998 sample of national adults (N=543) the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points

As you may know, the United Nations chief weapons inspector has reported that Iraq has not complied with its agreement to allow United Nations inspections of possible weapons facilities. In response, the United States and Britain have launched an air attack against Iraq this evening. Do you approve or disapprove of this attack?

  Approve Disapprove No Opinion
98 Dec 16 74% 13% 13%
98 Aug 20** 66 19 15

**Question Wording: As you may know, earlier today the United States launched military attacks against terrorist facilities in the countries of Afghanistan and the Sudan. Do you approve or disapprove of those attacks?

For results based on the January 16, 1991 sample of national adults (N=895) the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points

Do you approve or disapprove of the U.S. decision today to go to war with Iraq in order to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait?

  Approve Disapprove No Opinion
91 Jan 16 79% 15% 6%

Do you approve or disapprove of the U.S. decision to start the ground war against the Iraqis in Kuwait?

  Approve Disapprove No Opinion
91 Feb 24 84% 11% 5%

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