Americans Overwhelmingly Oppose Syria Strike, Want Obama to Back Down

United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll says people want U.S. to find another way to punish Assad for chemical weapons.

Protesters against U.S. intervention in Syria march during a demonstration in Boston, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013.  (National Journal)

President Obama continues to face broad public opposition to military intervention in Syria and an overwhelming consensus that he should not launch attacks if Congress denies him authorization, the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll has found.

As the president prepares to make his case in a nationally televised address, the survey found that opposition to intervention in Syria largely transcends the partisan, racial, age, and regional boundaries that fracture the public on almost all other major issues.

Not only do solid majorities of Republicans and independents oppose the use of force against Syria but so does a strong plurality of Democrats, according to the poll. Only a meager 13 percent of those polled--including just one-fifth of Democrats--say Obama should strike Syria anyway if Congress does not approve.

On the broadest question, the survey noted that "the Obama administration has concluded that the government of Syria used chemical weapons, including nerve gas, to kill over 1,400 civilians last month" and asked respondents how the U.S. should respond. A solid 55 percent majority said the U.S. should "do nothing and stay out of the Syrian civil war." Just 21 percent endorsed the option Obama prefers: launching "a limited military strike, using only air power, to punish the Syrian government for using chemical weapons."

Few preferred more-aggressive options, with 6 percent saying the U.S. should mount a sustained air campaign "to help rebels overthrow the Syrian government" and 6 percent more saying the U.S. should pursue regime change with both air power and ground troops. The final 12 percent said they didn't know what the U.S. should do.

These results suggest the administration's public-relations efforts have stalled since last week, when an ABC/Washington Post poll similarly found 59 percent of Americans opposed to missile strikes against Syria.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the new findings was their consistency across demographic and party lines. Whites were slightly more likely than nonwhites, and women slightly more likely than men, to argue that the U.S. should "do nothing," but in all four groups a majority picked that option. Likewise, while seniors recoiled the most (with nearly two-thirds opposing), just under half of adults under 30, nearly three-fifths of those between 30 and 49, and half of those from 50-64 also said the U.S. should not intervene.

Even across party lines the differences were muted. While 60 percent of Republicans said the U.S. should "do nothing," so did 58 percent of independents and 48 percent of Democrats. (Limited strikes drew support from 18 percent of both Republicans and independents, and from 31 percent of Democrats.) Some of the groups that typically take the most hawkish positions on national security also expressed substantial resistance: Fully 58 percent of Southern and rural respondents, as well as 55 percent of noncollege white men, all said the U.S. should do nothing in response to the attack. In all these ways, the survey found attitudes among the public broadly paralleling the unusual liberal/libertarian coalition resisting Obama in Congress.

The latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,002 adults by landline and cell phone from Sept. 5 to 8. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

The same broad-based resistance generally resurfaced on the more immediate question of what Congress should do next. Fifty-two percent of respondents said they preferred their members of Congress to vote against the president's request "for authorization to conduct a limited military strike on the Syrian government," while 37 percent said they wanted their members to support it.

Once again, a majority of both men and women, and a majority or plurality of adults in all four age groups, and in all four regions of the country, said their congressional representatives should oppose the request. But responses to this question suggested Obama was making some limited progress in rallying Democrats: While 63 percent of Republicans, and 54 percent of independents, said their congressional representatives should oppose the request, Democrats, by 50 percent to 41 percent, said Congress should back him. A slim plurality of nonwhites also said Congress should authorize military action. On the other hand, both young adults and college-educated white women, two other pillars of Obama's "coalition of the ascendant," were no more likely than the country overall to say Congress should approve force.

Noting that Obama "says he has the legal authority to strike Syria with or without congressional approval," the survey also asked respondents what the president should do if Congress rejects his request. Only 13 percent of those polled said he should "go ahead with a military strike." That idea faced widespread resistance even among the president's core supporters, winning backing from just 20 percent of Democrats, 17 percent of minorities, 12 percent of college-educated white women, and 10 percent of young adults.

The largest group of those polled, another 46 percent, said that if Congress says no, Obama should "find another means to punish Syria, such as economic or diplomatic sanctions or covert action." That was the most popular option among Republicans, Democrats (49 percent among each), and independents (44 percent) alike.

Another 35 percent of those polled said that if Congress balks, Obama should neither attack nor seek to punish Syria through other means. That sentiment was slightly stronger among independents (38 percent) and Republicans (37 percent) than Democrats, but even 28 percent of them said that Obama should not target Syria through any method if Congress rejects military force.

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