Consider this a significant marker for the polls coming out in the next two weeks or so after Barack Obama’s Oval Office speech last night. In the address, Obama reiterated his strategy on ISIS rather than offer anything new, but he also pushed back against the idea of expanding the war against ISIS with the use of ground troops. Obama claimed again, like so many of the arguments that his critics employ against his strategies, that a ground war is exactly what ISIS wants (transcript via Jeff Dunetz, again):
We should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria. That’s what groups like ISIL want. They know they can’t defeat us on the battlefield. ISIL fighters were part of the insurgency that we faced in Iraq. But they also know that if we occupy foreign lands, they can maintain insurgencies for years, killing thousands of our troops, draining our resources, and using our presence to draw new recruits.
The strategy that we are using now — airstrikes, Special Forces, and working with local forces who are fighting to regain control of their own country — that is how we’ll achieve a more sustainable victory. And it won’t require us sending a new generation of Americans overseas to fight and die for another decade on foreign soil.
Increasingly, Obama finds himself in the minority on the issue of ground troops to fight ISIS. In a number of polls, a majority of Americans have concluded that it will take American troops on the ground to dislodge ISIS — and for the first time, a CNN/ORC poll shows the same thing:
For the first time in CNN/ORC polling, a majority of Americans (53%) say the U.S. should send ground troops to Iraq or Syria to fight ISIS. At the same time, 6-in-10 disapprove of the President’s handling of terrorism and 68% say America’s military response to the terrorist group thus far has not been aggressive enough.
Overall, 60% say the U.S. military action against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria is going badly, that’s actually an improvement since October, when 67% said things were going poorly.
But the improvement here comes entirely among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. Among that group, 57% now say things are going well against ISIS, up from 43% in October, while the share of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who say things are going well has held steady at 19%.
Majorities across party lines feel the U.S. military response to ISIS hasn’t been aggressive enough, including 52% of Democrats, 66% of independents and 90% of Republicans. Still, there are broad partisan gaps on sending ground troops to fight ISIS, on whether the U.S. ought to take a leading role in solving international problems and on whether to allow Syrian refugees to seek asylum in the U.S.
Not coincidentally, Obama also gets his worst numbers on foreign policy in 15 months, matching the 40/57 of early September 2014. That was right after Obama admitted that he had no strategy for combating ISIS, and had to spend the next month promising to develop one. His numbers on handling ISIS are even worse than September 2014’s 37/59, and now stand at a new low of 33/64.
In the survey period prior to last night’s speech, Americans clearly wanted to see more urgency from their commander in chief. More than two-thirds of respondents (68%) believe Obama has not been aggressive enough, while only 26% think he’s been aggressive enough. Among all demographics in the poll data on that question, the only subgroups where 40% or more believe Obama has been aggressive enough are Democrats and Democratic leaners (44% in both) — and majorities in both groups think Obama hasn’t been aggressive enough. That may be why support for ground troop deployment has gone up seven points in six weeks, from 46/51 to 53/45.
At least prior to this speech, it’s become clear that Americans believe Obama still doesn’t have a coherent and/or credible plan to deal with the terrorist quasi-state. It’s certainly why Obama spent half as long rebutting that position as he did in repeating his own strategy, but will it be enough to convince skeptics? Earlier today on Morning Joe, former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw says Obama isn’t even convincing the faithful with these arguments:
“I find almost no one who is very happy with his war policies,” Brokaw says, which is why Obama felt the need to repeat them from the Oval Office last night. Did that stop the political bleed of Obama’s support? Only time will tell; Obama did get a bump in late September after initially articulating his ISIS strategy. Reruns don’t usually get high ratings, though, and the letdown from this crabby and defensive speech might make matters worse in the next round of polling.