SYRIA AUGUST 27, 2013
Nine percent? According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, that's the share of the public that supports an attack on Syria. Even Congress polls better than that. So does BP. The Washington Post's Max Fisher thinks the poll proves that the public isn't even close to supporting intervention: "If there were ever a time that Americans would support some sort of action, you'd think this would be it."
But the poll was taken from August 19-23, likely before most Americans would have been aware of the chemical weapon attack or its severity--if they even are today. Here's the proof: the same poll showed that 25 percent said they would support intervention if Syria used chemical weapons. Given that the same poll showed that just 9 percent of Americans supported intervention, it seems safe to assume that Americans aren't even close to informed about the situation.
And although the Reuters/Ipsos poll found that only a quarter of Americans would support intervention, even if Syria used chemical weapons, there's reason to question whether that will ultimately prove accurate. Polls from the not-too-distant past showed that the use of chemical weapons could sway public opinion. Last December, a Washington Post poll found that the use of chemical weapons would increase public support for intervention from 17 to 63 percent. An April survey from Pew Research found that 45 percent would support strikes if Syria used chemical weapons, compared to 31 percent would be opposed. Democrats, women, and young people were relatively skeptical, and if those are probably the groups where the president has the most sway.
At the very least, it's far too early to draw conclusions about public opinion on a hypothetical strike on Syria. The public isn't fully informed about Syria's behavior, and the administration and its senate allies haven't made the case for strikes. Given that well-regarded polls have shown that the use of chemical weapons could sway public opinion, it wouldn't be wise to discount the possibility that a plurality or majority of Americans might ultimately support some sort of military operation. Certainly, strikes on Syria will be more popular than Congress.