Via National Journal. Alternate headline: “Blogger surprised to find public actually paying attention to foreign policy.”
I’m trapped in a bubble of frenetic news-reading so it’s hard for me to tell when a story penetrates the public consciousness. Did the White House’s announcement that it was planning to ship weapons to the rebels really make waves as large as this? I don’t remember O himself talking much about Syria in any high-profile appearances lately. The big announcement about intervention, in fact, was relegated to a statement from the White House press shop and a conference call with some of his national-security advisors. He’s been lying low, as much as a president can. Given everything else that’s been going on, I would have guessed that there’d be barely a ripple in his job approval on foreign policy.
And yet, here we are:
In May, he was at 47/43 on foreign policy. He’s never been at 50+% disapproval in Quinnipiac before. He still has some support here from his base — Democrats, young voters, black voters — but when you ask specifically about his policy of sending arms to the Syrian rebels, this happens:
Underwater, deeply, across the board — 19 points among Democrats and young voters, fully 25 points among blacks. An interesting wrinkle: On the broader question of whether people approve of his handling of Syria, he’s underwater there too at 33/48 but enjoys 58 percent support among Democrats and 51 percent support among blacks. (Young voters still disapprove, though.) Maybe I’m right in thinking that the news of O’s decision to send arms hasn’t penetrated that deeply, then. His base might assume that he’s handling the situation well without knowing exactly what his policy is; when you ask them specifically about that policy, though, he craters. That’s ominous news for O in that it suggests he’s still got a ways to fall if U.S. intervention ends up becoming a more prominent news story and his base starts to peel off. See now why I suspect that he’s not too broken up about Congress’s intel committees putting the brakes on his weapons plans?
One other interesting wrinkle is that the public’s fine with directly intervening in Syria if it involves only unmanned weapons like drones and cruise missiles. That splits 49/38, with Republicans taking the lead in support at 58 percent. There is, I guess, some logic in thinking that intervention’s more acceptable if weapons remain in American hands and no American lives are put at risk, but when you ask people if they think intervening in Syria is in the interest of the United States, the split is 27/61 with just 26 percent of Republicans saying yes. Why support drone strikes against Assad if you think we shouldn’t be there in the first place? Maybe it’s just a byproduct of the public’s comfort with drone warfare after 10 years: They’ve gotten used to the feds whacking bad guys (and civilians, as collateral damage) from the air in Pakistan and Yemen. Why would they put up a fuss about doing it in Syria too?
Or maybe, despite all appearances, O’s deterioration on foreign policy doesn’t have much to do with Syria at all. Between U.S. haplessness in Egypt, halting negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Obama’s continuing humiliation from the Snowden saga, maybe his decline in FP is a cumulative thing. Throw Scandalmania into the middle of all that and you’ve got lots of downward pressure on perceptions of Obama generally, which bleeds over into foreign policy. On the more basic question of whether people view Obama to be honest and trustworthy, he’s down to 50/44 — slightly better than where he was in May but still several points lower than where he’s been traditionally. Likewise, on his bread-and-butter metric of whether voters think he cares about the needs of people like them, he’s down to 52/45 — also a new low for him, just like in foreign policy. People are losing patience with Hopenchange generally, so now when he screws up on foreign policy, he doesn’t have as much of a cushion. And the more people read stories like this, the worse it’ll get.
Update: What do you suppose this Quinnipiac poll will do to legislators who are already doggedly skeptical of intervention?