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'A Fragile Majority' : How Americans Feel About Obama's Fight Against ISIS

The public is divided over Obama's strategy to root out the terror organization.
Image: Image: ISIS fighters sit in a cave.
Flashpoint Global Partners

A majority of Americans support President Barack Obama’s proposed authorization to use force against ISIS, the Islamic State group, according to a new NBC News/Marist poll conducted after Obama sent his authorization to Congress. When told that the authorization would last for three years, calls for limited ground operations by the U.S. military, but rules out a longstanding ground force, 54% of respondents say they want their member of Congress to vote for it. This includes a majority of Democrats (60%), Republicans (52%) and independents (51%) -- not much of a partisan split, a rare thing these days. Just 32% of all respondents want their member of Congress to vote against such an authorization. It’s a reminder what can happen when Americans get killed: The American public gets galvanized. (By the way, don’t overlook the fact that Obama’s war authorization name-checks the Americans killed by ISIS. No doubt the Obama administration believes name-checking Americans in the resolution forces a tug at the heart, not just the head. But should a resolution authorizing military force do that?)

Public divided over confidence in Obama’s strategy

That said, NBC/Marist poll also finds that confidence in Obama's strategy to combat ISIS is mixed -- with 45% having a "great deal" or a "good amount" of confidence, versus 48% who have little to no confidence. And Americans are divided over whether President Obama will be remembered more for ending a war (40%) or starting a new one (44%). These numbers break along party lines, with 59% of Democrats saying Obama will be remembered for ending a war, compared with 62% of Republicans who say he'll be remembered for starting a new one. So despite the majority support for the authorization itself, it’s a VERY fragile majority. Looking under the hood of these numbers, you realize how this support can collapse pretty quickly. And what happens to support for this war if ISIS is defeated but Syria is still unstable? A vacuum that gets filled by more extremists? To prevent the vacuum, will the U.S. conclude the country needs a small but substantial U.S. presence? These are the questions Congress will be asking of the administration when the hearings begin. And it’s these unknowns which could easily make passing this authorization more challenging.

More numbers in the poll

  • two-thirds of Americans (66%) believe the United States and its allies will be able to defeat ISIS;
  • only 40% think Obama’s proposed authorization will receive bipartisan support in Congress;
  • and a plurality of respondents prefer sending a limited number of U.S. forces to combat ISIS (40%), versus a large number (26%) or no ground forces at all (26%).

The NBC/Marist poll was conducted Feb. 11-12 of 603 adults, and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 4.0 percentage points.

New NBC/Marist polls on Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina this Sunday

And those aren’t the only poll numbers we’re going to be releasing. On Sunday, we have new NBC/Marist polls measuring the (very early) 2016 race in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. The numbers will be unveiled on “Meet the Press” beginning at 9:00 am ET. Also on “Meet” this Sunday: VA Secretary McDonald and Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI) and John McCain (R-AZ).

An Obamacare checkup

Comparing a year ago and now: This Sunday also marks the 2015 deadline for enrollment in the health-care law. And it’s worth giving the law a statistical checkup of sorts, comparing the health-care statistics from a year ago versus now. (THEN: best number available for this time a year ago; NOW: best current number available)

Uninsured rate has declined

THEN: 17.1%

NOW: 12.9%

SOURCE: Gallup

Obamacare enrollment is up (via state and federal exchanges)

THEN: 3.3 million (total that had selected – though not paid for – plans as of Feb. 1, 2014)

NOW: about 10 million (total that so far has selected – though not paid for – plans before Feb. 15 deadline; includes those automatically re-enrolled in plans)


Note: In 2014, official *paid* enrollment turned out to be 6.7 million (after dental plans were subtracted)

Premiums are mixed – some are higher, some are lower, some are unchanged

Denver, CO

THEN: $250 (2014 monthly premium for a silver plan before tax credit)

NOW: $211 (2015 monthly premium)

Anchorage, AK

THEN: $433 (2014)

NOW: $547 (2015)

Washington, DC

THEN: $242 (2014)

NOW: $242 (2015)

SOURCE: Kaiser Family Foundation

Medicare’s solvency has improved

THEN: Medicare trust fund set to expire in 2026

NOW: Medicare trust fund set to expire in 2030

SOURCE: 2014 Trustees for Medicare and Social Security report

Obamacare still isn’t popular

THEN: Just 34% of public said the health-care law is a good idea

NOW: Just 36% of public said the health-care law is a good idea


Republicans increasingly doubt Christie can win GOP nomination

The story from NBC’s Perry Bacon: “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is facing growing skepticism from influential Republicans about his likely presidential run, with many in the party privately expressing doubts that he has any chance of winning the GOP nomination and some of Christie's former backers unwilling to say they will support his campaign.”

What a story out of Oregon!

Finally, if this story were playing out on the East Coast -- and not in Oregon -- it could very well be leading every national broadcast in the country. It’s a scandal involving the sitting Democratic governor and his (very colorful) fiancée; it looks like it could lead to his resignation ASAP; and the person who would replace him if he steps down would become the nation’s first bisexual governor. Here’s the latest from The Oregonian: “In one of the most surreal days in Oregon political history, the state's top Democratic leaders called for Gov. John Kitzhaber to resign, and the governor vanished from public view. With support of even allies evaporating, the ability of Kitzhaber to remain in office appeared less viable by the hour.” And here is the statement from Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown, who will succeed Kitzhaber if he resigns: “This is clearly a bizarre and unprecedented situation.” Indeed.

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