Poll shows weak public support for strike on Syria

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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A new NBC poll shows weak public support for a military operation in Syria, and weak overall support for President Barack Obama.

The poll of 700 adults showed Obama’s job approval at 44 percent. Forty-eight percent disapprove his job performance.

The poll showed varying level of support for Obama’s proposal to strike Syrian government targets following its Aug. 21 chemical-weapons attacks on civilians in Damascus.

Only 42 percent of people in the poll backed military action in Syria in response to the chemical attacks. Fifty percent said the U.S. should not take military action. The poll was conducted Aug. 28 and 29.

The poll goosed support up to 50 percent by asking the respondents if they would support a response that is “limited to air strikes using cruise missiles launched from U.S. naval ships that were meant to destroy military units and infrastructure that have been used to carry out chemical attacks.”

But those poll numbers would likely drop rapidly if the Iran-backed Syrian government fought back after a limited airstrike.

Millions of Syrians support the government, partly out of fear that the many jihadi rebels will kill them and their families if the government collapses.

The American public’s level of support for Obama’s policies rose when military strikes were only hypothetical.

It showed 58 percent support for the statement reflecting Obama’s current policy, which is that “the use of chemical weapons by any country is a “red line,” that is an action that would require a significant U.S. response, including the possibility of military action.”

Yet the same poll also showed 35 percent support when the respondents were asked “do you generally approve or disapprove of the job Barack Obama is doing in handling the situation in Syria?”

The 35 percent support is clearly below the size of his base in the electorate. The base includes African-Americans, progressives, gays, environmentalists, Latinos, academia and the media.

Forty-one percent of the poll’s respondents describe themselves as strong or weak Democrats, and 31 percent described themselves as strong or weak Republicans.

Americans’ public skepticism was underlined by a question which showed that 79 percent of respondents want him to get approval from Congress for military action in Syria.

That’s a problem for Obama, because  Republican leaders are clearly unenthusiastic about any operation, in part because they distrust Obama’s leadership and strategy.

Last night, GOP leaders called for further consultation following an evening telephone briefing between top Obama officials and more than 20 top Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

Many of Obama’s top loyalists, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, are backing Obama’s proposed strike, even though they sharply criticized Republican President George W. Bush’s successful but painful removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.

Traditional American allies have backed away from Obama’s plans. The governments of the United Kingdom and Canada have declined to support any strike.

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