War With Syria Is Massively Unpopular

by Patrick Appel

Reuters found that only 9 percent of Americans support using force against Syria. Nate Cohn claims that “it’s far too early to draw conclusions about public opinion on a hypothetical strike on Syria”:

The public isn’t fully informed about Syria’s behavior, and the administration and its senate allies haven’t made the case for strikes. Given that well-regarded polls have shown that the use of chemical weapons could sway public opinion, it wouldn’t be wise to discount the possibility that a plurality or majority of Americans might ultimately support some sort of military operation.

But support for striking Syria compares badly to previous wars. Joshua Keating digs up polling on past conflicts:

47 percent of Americans supported the U.S. intervention in Libya in 2011, which Talking Points Memo noted at the time was the “lowest level of support for an American military campaign in at least 30 years.” Seventy-six percent of American initially supported the Iraq War, and 90 percent supported U.S. action in Afghanistan in 2001.

On the eve of NATO military action in Kosovo in 1999, Gallup described public support as “tepid” at 46 percent. By contrast, 81 percent of Americans thought that George H.W. Bush was “doing the right thing” prior to the beginning of Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. Fifty-three percent initially supported in the invasion of Grenada. Even at their worst points, support for the wars in Iraq and Vietnam hovered around 30 percent.

I recognize there’s always a Rally ‘Round the Flag Effect and the level of support for action in Syria could change once the cruise missiles start flying and Americans feel the need to support the military action out of patriotism, but the baseline here is still pretty dismal.

Even if support spikes after America launches its missiles, that support is unlikely to be particularly solid. Support for intervention in Libya fell from 47 percent at the beginning of the conflict to 39 percent a few months later. And that was before the Benghazi attack.