Chemical weapons a game-changer on U.S. public opinion on Syria
August 29th, 2013
10:43 AM ET
12 months ago

Chemical weapons a game-changer on U.S. public opinion on Syria

Washington (CNN) - As President Barack Obama weighs launching a military strike against Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons, American public opinion over whether the U.S. should get involved appears conflicted.

The most recent national polling over the past few months suggests that most Americans, weary after more than a decade of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, don't favor getting its military involved in the bloody fighting in Syria. But some surveys also indicate that the public feels that Washington would be justified in using military action against Damascus if there was proof the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against their own people.

Sixty-one percent of those questioned in a Quinnipiac survey conducted in late June and early July said that it was not in the national interest for the U.S. to be involved in the war in Syria. And nearly six in 10 said they opposed the U.S. sending military arms or supplies to the rebel forces fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Those findings were consistent with earlier surveys from Gallup, Pew Research Center, and CBS News/New York Times that were conducted in June.

"In past foreign crises, polls have shown that support for U.S. action changes depending on three things: whether ground troops might become involved, whether the U.S. is acting alone or as part of an international coalition, and whether there is a specific reason to use U.S. force. The reason may be forward-looking or in retaliation for something that already happened, but the public doesn't like writing blank checks," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

But factor in chemical weapons, and public opinion shifts.

In May, a CNN/ORC Poll asked, "If the United States were able to present evidence that convinced you that the Syrian government has chemical weapons and has used them to kill civilians in that country, do you think the U.S. would or would not be justified in using military action against the Syrian government?"

Two thirds of those questioned answered yes, with three in 10 saying no.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll from last December had similar results, with more than six in 10 supporting military action Syria if it used chemical weapons against its people.

The United States has concluded Syria carried out chemical weapons attacks against its people, Obama said Wednesday, a claim that comes amid a looming diplomatic showdown over whether to strike against al-Assad's government.

"We do not believe that, given the delivery systems, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks. We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out," Obama told "PBS NewsHour."

"If, in fact, we can take limited, tailored approaches, not getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about – but if we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, stop doing this, that can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term," the president added.

One limited military option is cruise missile attacks against Syrian government and military targets.

According to the Quinnipiac poll, Americans by a 49%-38% plurality said the U.S. should use weapons that don't risk the lives of American forces, such as cruise missiles or drones, to attack Syrian government targets.

"After the Vietnam war, Americans were much less likely to support the use of U.S. force, a phenomenon often referred to as the Vietnam syndrome," Holland added. "Will Americans suffer from an Iraq syndrome in future conflicts? We may get an answer to that question in the next few weeks."


Filed under: Polls • Syria
soundoff (110 Responses)
  1. Sick of Listening to this Trash!

    I am sick of hearing about all these other countries needing help from the United States. If we had these kind of troubles here ... what country would step in for us? None – simply being the 'police force' for everybody has gotten us further and further into depth. Then to boot .. we send our jobs – overseas. American's need to tell the President, along with every else on Capitol Hill. To take their heads 'out of the sand' on American issues – and start focusing on the true things that are important to the people. Jobs, Stability, and a 'Health Care' system that doesn't take an IQ like Albert Einstein to figure out how it helps, what it take care of, and finally doesn't cost everyone – jobs, confusion or as much grief as this plan of action currently in place. As Americans we should demand our leadership to stop 'farting around' with our lives. And take a true interest in what is happening here in this country.

    August 30, 2013 01:26 am at 1:26 am |
  2. tony

    It is not about Obama's administration. It is not about the U.S vs the Syria. It is the World responsibility to stop this Chemical attack on our own human being. Anyone or any country that used chemical or biological substance to kill innocent lives is consider an act of evil. We should stop this at any cost. Does it takes another 1,000 , 10,000, or 100,000 lives to die before we act on? That is so disturb!

    August 30, 2013 01:54 am at 1:54 am |
  3. johnd

    utter madness, this s the plan though. makes me sick the media plays along with this game like this. Our AlCiada gassed those children. War profiteers gain so much. is it that hard to understand?

    August 30, 2013 01:55 am at 1:55 am |
  4. drd

    We don't need to be taking unilateral action. Only if the other countries in the region and our allies are also part of the action.

    August 30, 2013 02:01 am at 2:01 am |
  5. davidpatrick344

    if obamma goes in without congress he needs to be impeached and tried for treason

    August 30, 2013 02:15 am at 2:15 am |
  6. Anonymous

    Look, Obama is secretly against Israel. This is all on purpose. He's doing anything possible to take the supposedly attention off Iran and have everybody's heads on something like Syria or this so called great plan Obama-Care. Watch, we get involved and Iran get's the upper-hand

    August 30, 2013 04:29 am at 4:29 am |
  7. ain't nobody got time fo' war!

    This "intervention" was all planned years ago back when the Iraq war was planned. Seven countries in five years. "We don't know how to defeat terrorism, but we have a powerful military and we can topple governments with it." – Gen. Wesley Clark – 2007 (watch the interview on youtube) Only two countries on the list remain: Syria and Iran.

    August 30, 2013 06:28 am at 6:28 am |
  8. Anonymous

    sno strike on syria, its not our businesss

    August 30, 2013 06:44 am at 6:44 am |
  9. Steve

    Why is the redline chemical weapons? Syria has killed 100,000 of it's own people using conventional means, so we're saying if they kill another 100,000 but don't use chemical weapons we're alright with it? That makes absolutely no sense what so ever. Syria is already using tanks, jet fighters and attack helicopters against it's people, why not use chemical weapons?
    On the other hand what happens in Syria is no business of ours, let's stay out of it – both sides are our enemies.

    August 30, 2013 06:51 am at 6:51 am |
  10. Philip L

    The poll proves how ignorant the American public is. They have been conditioned to accept war at any time, any place, any reason no matter how flimsy. This is 100 times more frightening than Assad having and using chemical weapons.

    August 30, 2013 07:47 am at 7:47 am |
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