The Washington Post’s report on the latest poll in their series with ABC News uses a rather amusing — and telling — hook:
Get ready to pop the champagne, White House. For the first time since January, President Obama is polling a 50 percent approval rating on an issue: his handling of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
No, seriously … pop the champagne:
That is not a typo: It has been eight months since Obama last cracked half the American public on any given issue — foreign policy or otherwise — in Washington Post/ABC News polling.
True, and bad enough as is — except this isn’t an issue in the normal polling sense, such as the economy or foreign policy in general. It’s one specific policy, and previous polling already showed that Americans were overwhelmingly in favor of a forward military strategy against ISIS. The NBC/WSJ poll from three weeks ago found 68% in agreement on the need to attack ISIS, just after Obama’s strategy speech, and 65% before the speech.
Getting to 50% approval on a plan which 68% of Americans wanted three weeks ago isn’t really much of an accomplishment. In fact, it looks a little like — how to say it? — leading from behind.
The ABC report from pollster Gary Langer is decidedly less celebratory. Langer also notes that the boost in approval rating for this policy line up with previously-known public positions on action against ISIS, and that Obama’s boost in approval in this one narrow area comes from a source that’s unlikely to give him any lift in any other area:
Obama himself has a 50 percent approval rating for handling the conflict with ISIS in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates – far from stellar but exceeding the 44 percent who disapprove. It’s also more than the 42 percent approval of his handling of the situation in Iraq in June and August, before U.S.-led air strikes were extended to ISIS positions in Syria.
Notably, Obama receives approval from 30 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of conservatives for his handling of the situation – well short of majorities, but also far above his overall job approval ratings from those groups, 10 and 19 percent, respectively, in an ABC/Post poll in early September. He also gets 45 percent approval from political independents for handling the confrontation with ISIS, 8 points better than his overall job rating from this group.
ACTION – The results on military action align with longstanding public attitudes on military intervention, with lower-risk air strikes far preferred than more-committing ground combat. Support for military action also can rely on the presence of a clear threat – which the public sees in ISIS (six in 10 in early September called it a “very” serious threat to U.S. vital interests) – and broad international participation, which Obama has worked to achieve.
Interestingly, the approval rating for this policy is 48/49 among men, but 52/39 among women. Men overwhelmingly approve of adding US forces for training and coordinating ground attacks on ISIS 61/38, while women narrowly oppose it 46/49. Whites and Hispanics are evenly split on the policy, while black respondents support it 74/16 — but oppose US forces going in to train and coordinate 46/50. Independents are diffident on both questions, 45/46 and 49/46 respectively. However, when it comes to air strikes in Syria — which Obama was initially reluctant to order — every demographic gives a robust majority in support, almost all of them by 2/3rds or more.
We will see how this impacts Obama’s overall job approval and issue ratings in the next WaPo/ABC poll. Based on the internals of this survey, the White House had better not expect too much.