We’ll start with Pew. The good news for O? Majorities of both Republicans and Democrats and a near majority of independents agree with him that there’s “clear evidence” that Assad used chemical weapons against civilians. (Are they right about that? Hmmmmm.) Of those who do believe the evidence is clear, support for airstrikes is even with opposition at 41 percent apiece. That’s in line with other, older polls showing that public backing for intervening in Syria soars once you introduce WMD into the equation. To the extent O can convince the public that Assad really did gas hundreds of people in Damascus, he’s got a chance at moving the needle on this.
But moving it from 29/48 opposition to majority support? Doubtful.
Just 29% of Democrats favor conducting airstrikes against Syria while 48% are opposed. Opinion among independents is similar (29% favor, 50% oppose). Republicans are more divided, with 35% favoring airstrikes and 40% opposed…
Three-quarters (74%) believe that U.S. airstrikes in Syria are likely to create a backlash against the United States and its allies in the region and 61% think it would be likely to lead to a long-term U.S. military commitment there. Meanwhile, just 33% believe airstrikes are likely to be effective in discouraging the use of chemical weapons; roughly half (51%) think they are not likely to achieve this goal…
Most independents (58%) and Republicans (54%) also say that U.S. airstrikes in Syria are not likely to be effective in discouraging the use of chemical weapons. Democrats are more closely divided – nearly as many say they will not be effective (40%) in achieving this goal as say they will (46%).
There are actually more Democrats opposed to a strike than there are Republicans even though Dems are way more likely to say that Obama has “explained clearly” why the U.S. should launch airstrikes than GOPers or indies are. I wonder if that won’t prove fatal to his chances of winning the big vote in Congress. He can probably pick up 80-100 House Republican votes on hawkish lines, especially with Boehner and Cantor behind him, but that means he’ll need 120-140 Democrats to put him over the top. How likely is that now, with net support among their base running nearly at -20? And how likely is it that he’ll grab Republican fencesitters with conservatives like Tim Huelskamp framing the debate this way?
— Cong. Tim Huelskamp (@CongHuelskamp) September 3, 2013
That’s a foreign-policy version of the argument border hawks have been using against immigration. If we can’t trust Obama to enforce the employer mandate required by ObamaCare, why would you trust him to enforce tough new border security measures? If you can’t trust him to protect the consulate in Benghazi and track down the bad guys who attacked it, why would you trust him on Syria? This is, supposedly, a war to defend the president’s credibility. How much more credibility can he lose before it’s not worth defending what’s left?
Meanwhile, at ABC/WaPo:
Nearly six in 10 oppose missile strikes in light of the U.S. government’s determination that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people. Democrats and Republicans alike oppose strikes by double digit margins, and there is deep opposition among every political and demographic group in the survey. Political independents are among the most clearly opposed, with 66 percent saying they are against military action.
Broad opposition in the new poll contrasts with a December Post-ABC poll that found most Americans saying they would be supportive of U.S. action if Syria used chemical weapons. At that time, 63 percent supported U.S. military involvement when it was a hypothetical situation, while 30 percent were opposed.
Note well: Even when Assad’s WMD use is explicitly mentioned, net support for intervention among both Democrats and Republicans remains underwater at -12. Between that and the steep decline in public enthusiasm since the December poll, I’m thinking Rubio was probably right: If Obama was going to act, he should have done it sooner. Rubio offers that criticism strategically, to make the point that the U.S. would have better options on the battlefield if it had been more aggressive earlier, but it’s also true politically. Click the Pew link up top and scroll down and you’ll find that the public’s paying closer attention to Syria now than it used to. Eight months of self-education about massive destruction and bad guys on all sides naturally gave Americans cold feet. Had O moved last year, he might have been able to sell this as Libya II to ill-informed skeptics. No more.