Poll: Obama faces skeptical public on Syria

By Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto and Fred Backus

As President Obama heads to Capitol Hill and readies to address the nation from the White House Tuesday in his effort to convince Congress and the American people to support an attack on Syria, a CBS News/New York Times poll shows a majority of Americans opposes military strikes.

Six in 10 Americans oppose military air strikes against Syria, and a majority - 56 percent - disapproves of how Mr. Obama is handling the matter. Opposition is stronger among Republicans and independents than it is among Democrats. 



While six in 10 are against airstrikes, even more (74 percent) are opposed to the U.S. providing arms to anti-government forces in Syria, and 86 percent oppose sending U.S. ground troops into Syria, something the administration has not proposed.

Concerns and Repercussions

Opposition may stem in part from the real concerns Americans have about possible repercussions from U.S. military action in Syria. About two in three (66 percent) are very concerned that such action will become a long and costly involvement for the U.S.; that it will lead to a more widespread war in neighboring countries and other parts of the Middle East, and that it will kill or harm innocent civilians.

Most Americans (60 percent) are also concerned that military involvement in Syria will make the possibility of a terrorist attack against the United States more likely. Majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents share this view.

More generally, most Americans (65 percent) continue to say the U.S. does not have a responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria. Views have been consistent on this since late last year.

Chemical Weapons and Airstrikes

Three in four Americans believe the Syrian government probably used chemical weapons against civilians. There is agreement across party lines on this.

If the U.S. does launch airstrikes against Syria, few think ousting that country's president should be the goal. Most Americans (63 percent) think airstrikes should be conducted only to stop the Syrian government from using chemical weapons. Just a quarter think airstrikes should continue until President Bashar Assad is removed from power.

While 58 percent think airstrikes would be at least somewhat effective in stopping further use of chemical weapons, just 21 percent see them as very effective. Democrats express more confidence in the effectiveness of U.S. airstrikes than Republicans do.

Fifty-two percent of Americans perceive the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a security threat to the United States, while 45 percent do not.

Those who are following news about Syria more closely are more skeptical: most who say they have heard or read a lot about reports of chemical weapon use by the Syrian government do not think that poses a threat to U.S. security.

While Americans agree that the situation in Syria is at least somewhat important to the interests of the U.S., only a third consider it very important. Views were similar regarding American interests in both Libya and Kosovo right before the U.S. engaged in airstrikes against those two regions in 2011 and 1999.