WASHINGTON - Americans widely oppose launching missile strikes against the Syrian government for its alleged use of chemical weapons, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that finds little appetite for military action across the country despite a growing drumbeat in Washington.
Nearly six in 10 oppose missile strikes in light of the U.S.government’s determination that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people. Democrats and Republicans alike oppose strikes by double digit margins, and there is deep opposition among every political and demographic group in the survey. Political independents are among the most clearly opposed, with 66 percent saying they are against military action.
Broad opposition in the new poll contrasts with a December Post-ABC poll that found most Americans saying they would be supportive of U.S. action if Syria used chemical weapons. At that time, 63 percent supported U.S. military involvement when it was a hypothetical situation, while 30 percent were opposed.
Such possible support for action has yet to materialize in the weeks after an Aug. 21 gas attack that reportedly killed 1,429 people outside of Damascus. The survey was conducted Wednesday through Sunday, as the Obama administration made its public case for military strikes and presented intelligence claiming "high certainty" that Syria’s government is the culprit in attacks.
Americans express more support for action if Britain and France were to join the cause, a prospect that became far less likely after the British parliament shot down a proposal for military action in Syria. In the United States, support for missile strikes in Syria rises by 10 percentage points, to 46 percent, if Britain and France participate, including a 14 point jump among independents. Still, 51 percent remain opposed even if such a coalition materialized.
The public expresses even wider opposition to arming Syrian rebels, which President Barack Obama authorized in June. Fully seven in 10 oppose arming rebels, including large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents.
The poll finds somewhat lower support for military action than an NBC News poll conducted Aug. 25-26. In that survey, 42 percent supported military action, rising to 50 percent for limited strikes targeting Syria’s chemical weapons facilities.
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1. The United States says it has determined that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in the civil war there. Given this, do you support or oppose the United States launching missile strikes against the Syrian government?
Support: 36 percent
Oppose: 59 percent
2. What if other countries such as Britain and France participated - in that case do you support or oppose the United States and its allies launching missile strikes against the Syrian government?
Support: 46 percent
Oppose: 51 percent
3: Do you support or oppose the United States and its allies supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels?
Support: 27 percent
Oppose: 70 percent
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This poll was conducted for The Washington Post and ABC News by telephone Aug. 28-Sept. 1 among a random national sample of 1,012 adults, including users of both conventional and cellular phones. The results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by SSRS of Media, Pa.
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Clement is a survey research analyst with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media.