Poll: More Oppose Air Strikes

While a majority of Americans continues to support NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia, the level of support remains relatively low for U.S. military action. Just half the public favors the air strikes on Serbian targets in Yugoslavia, while more than a third oppose the U.S. and NATO actions.


Support for the NATO air strikes remains significantly lower than the level of public support for other recent U.S. military actions.

For example, in December, 79 percent favored the U.S. air strikes on Iraq. And while there has been little change in the percentage favoring air strikes in Yugoslavia in the last few days, opposition to those strikes has increased slightly. In a poll conducted on March 24 after the air strikes began, 30 percent said they opposed the military action. Now, 37 percent say that.

There are several reasons for this moderate level of support. As many people say those air strikes won't be successful in meeting the goal of stopping Serb attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo as say they will. And a majority of the public continues to believe that peace in Yugoslavia is not worth the loss of American lives.


There is significant doubt about whether the air strikes will achieve one of NATO's goals - stopping Serbian attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. A total of 40 percent think they will succeed in that, but 43 percent think they will not.

Even among those who believe the air strikes will succeed in ending Serbian attacks, most think that impact will be only temporary.

It appears that the loss of one F-117 stealth fighter jet in Yugoslavia may have increased concern about the risk to U.S. lives. More than three-quarters of the public now expect U.S. casualties in Yugoslavia, up from 68 percent last week. That is not a price most Americans are willing to pay. By 54 percent to 36 percent, the public rejects the argument that peace in Yugoslavia is worth the loss of American lives.

While many have warned that the NATO action in Yugoslavia could last a long time, 39 percent of the public thinks it will last only a few days or another week or two. A total of 46 percent expect the air strikes to last at least another month, if not longer. And nearly three-quarters say it is at least somewhat likely that the U.S. will be "bogged down" in Yugoslavia's domestic problems for the foreseeable future.

Another concern is that the conflict in Kosovo will spread into neighboring countries and other parts of Europe. In this poll, 54 percent believe that it is at least somewhat likely that a more widespread war will happen, and 38 percent think that's not likely.


As the military action in Yugoslavia unfolds, only about a third of the public is following news about the air strikes very cloely. Many are unable to say which side (the Serbs or the ethnic Albanians) is more to blame for the fighting in Kosovo. And only a third of Americans think what happens in Yugoslavia is very important to U.S. interests.

In fact, fewer now say that President Clinton has explained the situation in Kosovo well enough so that they know why the U.S. and NATO have launched air strikes there than said so last week.

Those who are closely following the air strikes are generally more supportive of U.S. involvement there. They are also more likely to think the president has explained the situation well enough. However, both those who are following the situation closely and those who are not are concerned about possible U.S. casualties and are dubious about the chances for success.

When asked directly why the U.S. is bombing Yugoslavia, about one-third of the public can't answer. But among those who can give an answer, most say it's generally to stop the fighting in Kosovo (and about half of those who mention fighting specifically mention stopping the ethnic cleansing there). And by 55 percent to 34 percent, those who give any answer to the question of why the bombing is taking place say that reason is a good enough justification.


There is substantial public opposition to the use of U.S. ground troops in Kosovo - whether they be part of a NATO force sent in to end the fighting if air strikes are NOT successful, or as part of a peacekeeping force sent in AFTER a cease-fire. In one question which asked about the possibility of sending in ground troops, 62 percent oppose sending ground troops in as part of a military force. In a separate question, 53 percent oppose U.S. participation even in a post-cease-fire NATO peacekeeping force.

And the public continues to oppose the United States taking on the role of primary global peacekeeper. By 61 percent to 31 percent, Americans oppose the U.S. being the world's policeman. When asked about this in 1996, a similarly high number were opposed to this.


Just 50 percent approve of the way President Clinton is handling the situation in Yugoslavia - about the same level of approval he received on his handling of the situation last week as the bombing began. But over the same period, disapproval of his handling of the situation has increased 11 points. Now 36 percent disapprove.

Disapproval of how the president is handling the situation is especially high among Republicans, who are more critical of the president in general. However, there is no partisan difference in the level of support for the bombing itself. More than half of both Republicans and Democrats favor the air strikes. And men continue to be more in favor of the bombing than are women. (But men are more critical of the president's handling of the situation than women are).

Thpresident's overall approval rating in this poll is 60 percent. While that is lower than his approval rating earlier this year and through most of 1998, it remains higher than it had been before the Lewinsky matter became public. However, unlike the usual case during a U.S. military action, the president is getting no bounce in overall approval from the current conflict in Yugoslavia. President Clinton's foreign policy rating is also lower that it has been in the past few months. In this poll, 55 percent approve, and 34 percent disapprove.


The public is fairly evenly divided on whether Russian and Chinese opposition to the NATO air strikes will damage U.S. relations with those countries. The public divides evenly on whether the NATO air strikes will damage U.S. relations with Russia. Fewer think the air strikes will damage U.S. relations with China, though China has also criticized the NATO action.

This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 793 adults interviewed by telephone March 28, 1999. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus four percentage points for results based on the entire sample. Sampling error for sub-groups is higher.