President Barack Obama faces a “tall order” in convincing Americans on Syria with nearly 60 percent who say they want their member of Congress to oppose the use of military force there, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
With Obama set to address the nation Tuesday night to advocate U.S. intervention against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, just 24 percent of Americans believe military action in response to Assad’s reported use of chemical weapons is in the United States’ interest.
More ominously for Obama and his allies, opposition to military action only has grown since the president first sought approval from Congress and since the administration began waging an intense campaign to win congressional support. Congress is expected to vote on authorization this week but the timing is uncertain.
And in another sign suggesting the public’s reluctance to intervene in Syria’s bloody civil war, almost three-quarters of respondents agree with the statement that the United States should focus more on its domestic problems than promoting democracy and freedom abroad.
Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff, is the one who called Obama’s upcoming speech a “tall order” given these numbers, adding, “to a certain degree, the American [public’s] red line is: ‘Stay out.’”
Previewing the president’s address, McInturff added, “He is going to have to give people new information they don’t have.”
Obama’s approval on Syria drops to 28 percent
In the poll, 58 percent say their member of Congress should vote against the resolution authorizing military action in Syria after the Assad regime’s reported use of chemical weapons against its own people. This includes two-thirds of Republican and independent respondents, as well as a plurality of Democrats.
By contrast, just 33 percent want their representative to support the authorization.
What’s more, only 44 percent favor military action, even if it’s limited to using cruise missiles launched from U.S. naval ships – a 6-point decline from an NBC News poll released late last month.
Just 28 percent approve of President Obama’s handling of the situation in Syria, which is down 7 points from August.
His overall job-approval rating stands at 45 percent, a 1-point increase from last month.
“[Obama] has not made the case, and the passage of time hasn’t improved the dynamic for the president,” said Democratic pollster Fred Yang, who also conducted this NBC/WSJ survey.
Majority says Obama should stand down if Congress votes against authorization
Additionally, the poll finds that 59 percent of Americans would oppose Obama taking military action in Syria in the case that Congress votes down authorization.
By comparison, slightly more than a third of Americans – 36 percent – would support Obama green-lighting military action without approval from lawmakers.
And only a third of Americans believe the president has made a convincing case about the U.S. need to take military action in Syria, while a quarter – 24 percent – think military action is in the nation’s interest.
Forty-seven percent say it’s not in the United States’ national interest, a 14-point increase since last month.
3 in 4 want domestic focus, not international one
The NBC/WSJ poll also shows that a whopping 74 percent agree with the statement that it’s time for the United States to do less around the world and focus more on domestic problems.
That compares with 22 percent who agree that America must promote democracy and freedom across the globe, because those efforts would make the U.S. more secure.
This is a significant change from the last time this question was asked in 2005, when 54 percent sided with focusing on domestic problems, versus 33 percent who wanted to emphasize democracy and freedom around the world.
And right before the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, 39 percent of Americans believe the country is safer than it was before the attacks, 28 percent say it’s less safe and 33 percent say it’s virtually the same.
The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Sept. 5-8 of 1,000 adults (including 300 cell phone-only respondents), and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.
First published September 9 2013, 8:58 PM