The Washington Post describes this as a “slight majority,” but Donald Trump gets a double-digit polling triumph for his strike on Qassem Soleimani in the latest WaPo/ABC poll. The question remains whether it has enhanced his political standing at home, however, as respondents still worry whether the decision made war with Iran likelier than before. One outcome in particular suggests that even if Trump made the right decision in the moment, it’s not exactly going to be effective election-campaign fodder in the fall.
For the moment, however, Trump gets a 12-point gap in overall polling for the strike:
Three weeks after President Trump ordered the drone strike that killed Iran’s powerful military commander, a Washington Post-ABC News poll finds a slight majority of Americans approve of the decision, even as many express concerns that it may increase the chance of war breaking out with Iran and of terrorist attacks against Americans.
The Post-ABC poll finds 53 percent approve of Trump’s ordering of the strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, while 41 percent disapprove. …
Despite overall approval of Trump’s decision, nearly half of adults say his actions increased the risk of terrorism against Americans (48 percent), and a similar 46 percent say they increased the chance of war with Iran. Fewer than 2 in 10 say his actions decrease the risk of terrorism or war with Iran, and about one-third say they made no difference in either risk.
It’s an interesting outcome, especially coming a couple of weeks afterward. In the immediate aftermath of the strike, one might expect Americans to experience a “rally ’round the flag” impulse behind a bold and decisive commander-in-chief. Even after a couple of weeks to contemplate the consequences of such a strike, however, only 41 percent oppose it. One does have to wonder how much these numbers would have changed, though, had Iran launched a more serious retaliation campaign, one that dragged us into responses in kind and hinted at a new war. In that sense, Trump is being rewarded for his gamble that Iran would rethink its approach after losing perhaps their most indispensable man in the regime as an opening gambit by the US.
The support for the Soleimani strike transcends partisanship — a bit, anyway. Republicans are nearly unanimous on it at 86/10, which might indicate the limits of the Rand Paul/Mike Lee faction within the GOP. Independents break a little more toward support than the overall number at 54/37, with the highest number of undecided amongst the partisan demos (9%). Democrats, however, overwhelmingly oppose it 24/72. This breakdown suggests that Americans are not splitting so much on policy as they are on team loyalty, so once again the independents might be the only sufficient measure of approval.
The gender gap is another indication that this is more of a red/blue issue than a “forty years of Iranian terror operations” issue. Men support the decision 63/32, while women oppose it 43/50. In both cases, most respondents line up in the “strongly” category (50/24 among men, 31/38 among women).
Approval does not necessarily equate to enthusiasm, however. Two other questions show the limit of the impact this has on Trump’s prospects, one direct and the other indirect. The WaPo/ABC poll asks respondents directly whether the strike has changed voters’ minds about their choice in November, and a plurality of 41% says it doesn’t matter. Among those whose decisions might have been impacted, it has gone in the direction of opposition to Trump by ten points (24/34). Seven percent of Republicans have become more likely to oppose Trump in comparison to three percent of Democrats who have moved closer to Trump, but it’s more serious among independents. Twice as many have become more likely to oppose him (35%) as support him (17%).
Why is that? Despite supporting the strike, many more people think Trump’s too aggressive on Iran than too cautious (41/5 among registered voters), although a narrow plurality thinks he’s “about right” (49%). That’s true among some key demos for Trump in November:
- independents (5/40)
- men (4/33)
- conservatives a bit (4/20)
- every age demo
- non-college voters (4/38)
- all racial demos but especially among black voters (5/72)
- all income levels
- white Protestants, both evangelical (slightly at 2/15) and non-evangelical 5/37)
- all regional levels
- all neighborhood types, even rural voters (6/27)
Trump can probably afford this one gamble, especially since it seems to have paid off, or at least not backfired. If he keeps gambling, those numbers are likely to get worse, especially if it provokes a harsher response from Iran. That’s something to watch as Trump tries to get a grip on his Iran policy in the aftermath of the Soleimani strike. And don’t expect to hear “Qassem Soleimani is dead and Midwest manufacturing is alive!” slogans at the Republican national convention this year.