Polling no-fly zone

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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The American public has warmed to the idea of US involvement in the enforcement of a no-fly zone over the course of the last week, though not to further military engagement. A majority of voters now support a no-fly zone, which the United Nations authorized in a resolution on Friday.

A March 8 Rasmussen poll found that a strong majority of voters wanted the US to avoid further involvement in Libya. But two polls released one week later, on March 14, found a majority now in favor of establishing a no-fly zone. A third poll, released the same day by Pew Research Center found the public almost equally divided on the issue of a no-fly zone.

Pew asked respondents to react to five different possible actions the US and allies could take in Libya: “Increasing economic and diplomatic sanctions on Libya,” “Enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya,” “Bombing Libyan air defenses,” “Sending arms and supplies to anti-government groups in Libya,” and “Sending troops into Libya.”

Though a majority favored economic and diplomatic sanctions, the poll found support steadily dropping for the actions that would require more military involvement. Americans adamantly oppose bombing Libyan air defenses, supporting anti-government groups, and sending troops into Libya. Very few people were undecided on the issue, suggesting the American public feels very strongly. As Margie Omero pointed out in the Huffington Post, opinion on a no-fly zone could have been affected by the fact that “the question is one of a list of a variety of military actions, perhaps making a no fly zone seem like the beginning of a slippery slope.”

The Rasmussen poll did not ask about specific actions, military or diplomatic, that the US might take in Libya, simply asking “Should the United States get more directly involved in the Libyan crisis or leave the situation alone.” The question was part of a series of five, that focused primarily on the political implications of what was going on in Libya and the Obama administration’s response.

CNN asked respondents specifically about a no-fly zone, but worded the question to make very clear what the nature of that involvement would mean. The question specified that “No U.S. ground troops would be involved but U.S. airplanes or missiles might be used to shoot down Libyan airplanes or attack ground bases used by the Libyan air force.”

The ABC/Washington Post poll asked two questions on the subject of a no-fly zone. Respondents were asked if they would be in favor of “using U.S. military aircraft to create a no-fly zone,” and then what they would think if “U.S. military aircraft could participate in creating a no-fly zone.” The first question prompted more opposition, and fewer than half of respondents said they supported such an action. The second question, however, garnered support from a majority of voters, and opposition dropped accordingly. The disparity seems to be in how Americans feel about the US participating in enforcement versus the US creating a no-fly zone, since the latter suggests substantially more responsibility on the part of the US.

Both CNN and ABC/WaPo found support for a no-fly zone stronger among Republicans. The Rasmussen poll a week earlier found that Republicans were similarly more favorable to the idea of US involvement, but in that poll, a majority were still opposed, as were the majority of all demographics.