Pew Study: More Americans Oppose Airstrikes On Syria

As congressional leaders line up behind President Obama's plan to strike Syria, a new poll from the Pew Research Center shows public opinion largely against even limited military action. Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, talks to Renee Montagne about the research.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. We've been hearing a lot this morning about President Obama going to Congress seeking support for a response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. He's also looking to the international community. Speaking in Stockholm, Sweden today, he said that the world has a responsibility to act, not just the United States.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use, even when countries are engaged in war. Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty.

MONTAGNE: He added in these situations the U.S. always takes the lead.

OBAMA: When bad stuff happens around the world, the first question is, what is the United States going to do about it? That's true on every - every issue. It's true in Libya. It's true in Rwanda. It's true in Sierra Leone. It's now true in Syria.

MONTAGNE: But a poll released yesterday by the Pew Research Center showed that only 29 percent of Americans favored airstrikes in Syria. For more findings, we're joined on the line by the director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Michael Dimock, welcome to the program.

MICHAEL DIMOCK: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So it appears that many people are convinced by the evidence, looking at this poll here, that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on its own people but not that that act requires a U.S. military response. Tell us more about what you found.

DIMOCK: Yeah, that's right. What seems to be holding people back from wanting to get involved here, it's not the evidence. Most people say there's clear evidence the Syrian government used chemical weapons. What Americans aren't persuaded of is that the costs and risks of this outweigh the benefits and upsides. They're not persuaded that getting involved militarily is going to really solve the problem and reduce the use of chemical weapons.

MONTAGNE: And one distinction, though, here was going it alone. What did people think if they thought that the U.S. would be joined by allies?

DIMOCK: You know, our survey just asked would you favor or oppose the U.S. conducting airstrikes against Syria in response to chemical weapons. There have been some other polls that have asked a bit about whether allied support would help. You see some improvement there but not overwhelming. Most Americans would like to see U.N. approval for whatever we do in Syria, but they, I think, realize that that's probably unlikely.

I think even as an allied effort, this is not something the public is terribly supportive of.

MONTAGNE: Now, we're seeing opposition within the Republican Party, both opposition and support of this strike. How does that work out in the American public?

DIMOCK: Yeah. This is another issue - a rare issue these days - that is not completely red versus blue. Republicans nationwide are split about whether they favor or oppose airstrikes. About 35 percent said they were supportive, 40 percent opposed. Democrats tilted a little a little more toward opposition. Twenty-nine percent favor the idea; 48 percent oppose it in our polling over the weekend.

MONTAGNE: And what about a gender gap? Often that comes up in matters of war.

DIMOCK: Yes. And it's here again. Men are about twice as likely as women to say they would support the use of airstrikes against Syria, 39 percent of men. Just 19 percent of women support airstrikes. It's not that women are that much more opposed; they're just holding back judgment a little bit longer here. Far more women say they're uncertain about what we should do.

MONTAGNE: Michael Dimock is the director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, talking to us about a new poll of American public opinion. Thanks very much.

DIMOCK: Thank you.

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