GALLUP NEWS SERVICE
A Gallup Poll survey taken this weekend in anticipation of NATO military action over Kosovo finds tepid public support for U.S. military involvement in that region. According to the March 19-21 poll, less than half the public, 46%, currently favors U.S. participation in NATO air and missile attacks. Nearly as many Americans, 43%, are opposed to this possible U.S. intervention.
U.S. public support for air and missile strikes today is roughly the same as four weeks ago. In a February Gallup poll, 43% favored and 45% opposed U.S. participation in NATO attacks provoked by the continued failure of the Yugoslavian Serbs and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority to reach a peace agreement.
Over the same time period, however, public support for two possible justifications for U.S. intervention has slightly increased. Today, 42% of Americans-compared to 37% last month- believe the United States needs to be involved in Kosovo to protect its own interests. Similarly, 58% today-compared to 52% in February-believe the U.S. has a moral obligation to help keep the peace in Kosovo.
Public's Ambivalence About Balkan Intervention Not
The current balance of public opinion toward a NATO air and missile attack is similar to public support for U.S. involvement with international military operations in the Balkans at other times this decade. In one of Gallup's earliest questions on this subject in August of 1992, just 49% of Americans felt the U.S. should participate in U.N. air strikes against Serbian forces in Bosnia in order to stop their blocking of relief efforts to Sarajevo; 39% were opposed. More recently, in December 1997, 49% approved and 43% disapproved of the presence of U.S. troops in Bosnia as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force.
Public Not Highly Attentive to Kosovo
Relative to other issues in the news over the past few years, Americans today are paying scant attention to the Kosovo situation. Approximately one third, 36%, said in the March 19-21 poll that they are following the situation closely, while the rest are paying little to no attention-putting interest in the issue on par with the current Microsoft trial. By comparison, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the 1997 UPS strike, and the beginning of the 1991 Gulf War were all followed closely by eight in ten Americans.
Among the minority of Americans who are paying close attention to Kosovo, support for U.S. participation in NATO air strikes is relatively high, at 58%. Those not paying close attention oppose U.S. involvement by a 46% to 39% margin.
Political Stakes Could Be High
Although the question has not been updated since 1995, The Gallup Poll that year found American support for U.S. involvement in peacekeeping activities in the Balkans largely evaporating when respondents were presented with the possibility that 25 American soldiers might be killed. If that sentiment continues to hold, U.S. participation in air or ground attacks-as opposed to cruise missile attacks-could be politically risky.
It should be noted that public reluctance to involve the United States in military conflict is not unusual. A look into Gallup's archives reveals majority opposition to U.S. military involvement at the early stages of the Persian Gulf crisis in 1990, Indo-China in 1954 and World War II in1941. Of course, Americans became much more supportive of U.S. involvement in each case once military action actually occurred.
For results based on the sample of national adults (N=1,018) the margin of error is ±3 percentage points.
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?
|99 Mar 19-21||46%||43%||11%|
|99 Feb 19-21||43||45||12|
|98 Oct 9-12**||42||41||17|
** 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?
Do you think the United States needs to be involved in Kosovo in order to protect its own interests, or don't you think so?
|Needs to be
|99 Mar 19-21||42%||50%||8%|
|99 Feb 19-21||37||55||8|
|95 Nov 27**||36||52||12|
|95 Jun 5-6**||30||63||7|
|94 Feb 7**||32||59||9|
** Question Wording: "Do you think the United States needs to be involved in Bosnia in order to protect its own interests, or don't you think so?"
Do you think the United States has a moral obligation to help keep the peace in Kosovo, or not?
|Yes, does have
|99 Mar 19-21||58%||37%||5%|
|99 Feb 19-21||52||43||5|
|95 Nov 27**||53||40||7|