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Americans support airstrikes on ISIS, divided over ground troops

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Americans support airstrikes on ISIS, divided over ground troops

2-to-1 majority gives President Obama negative ratings on his handling of the situation.

A new Harris Poll of American attitudes on the so-called Islamic State, sometimes referred to as ISIS or ISIL, finds that seven in ten Americans (71%) support continued air strikes against ISIS, with strong majorities agreeing on the matter across political lines (79% Republicans, 70% Democrats, 73% Independents).

Americans are split, however, on whether to send ground troops to combat the group, with four in ten both in support of (40%) and in opposition to (41%) such an action.

"Only two in ten American adults (21%) display confidence in current policies."

     While majorities also support continued air strikes across generational lines, support is noticeably stronger among older cohorts (57% Millennials, 66% Gen Xers, 80% Baby Boomers, 87% Matures).

  • Republicans are more likely to voice support for sending U.S. ground troops (56% support, 30% oppose), while Democrats are more inclined to oppose such an action (49% oppose, 32% support). Independents are also more likely to oppose (44%) rather than support (39%) sending U.S. ground troops, though by an admittedly narrow margin.

Over half of Americans (55%) give President Obama negative ratings for the job he has done in handling the situation over the last several weeks, while 30% give him positive ratings. Meanwhile, Congress – whose most public action in regards to ISIS thus far has been deciding not to debate the issue at all until after the midterm elections – receives negative ratings from 68% of Americans and positive ratings among only 13%.

Crisis of confidence

Nearly six in ten Americans (57%) are not confident that U.S. policies related to ISIS will be successful, while only two in ten American adults (21%) display confidence in current policies. While over half of Democrats (54%) give President Obama positive ratings on his handling of ISIS, three in ten (30%) give him negative ratings, as do more than eight in ten Republicans (82%) and six in ten Independents (61%). As for Congress, majorities across the political spectrum give them negative ratings, though negative marks are stronger among Republicans (78%) and Independents (73%) than among Democrats (60%).

As for confidence that U.S. policies related to ISIS will be successful, majorities of Republicans (82%) and Independents (60%) are not confident. Meanwhile, a narrow plurality of Democrats (40%) is not confident, compared to 36% who are confident that U.S. policies will be successful.

Getting better or worse?

When asked whether they think the situation with ISIS is getting better or worse, or if there has been no real change, a 48% plurality indicates that the situation is getting worse; three in ten (29%) say there has been no real change, while only 5% say the situation is getting better.

  • Looking across political affiliations, two-thirds of Republicans (67%) and half of Independents (50%) say the situation is getting worse, while Democrats are split: just over a third each say that it's getting worse (36%) and that there has been no real change (35%).
  • From a generational perspective, Matures are the group most likely to say the situation is getting worse, while Millennials are the generation least likely to indicate the same (63% Matures, 55% Baby Boomers, 47% Gen Xers, 38% Millennials).

Threat assessment

Of those Americans who have seen, heard, or read anything about ISIS (92%), half (51%) believe President Obama has under-stated the threat represented by ISIS in recent weeks, while 13% believe he has over-stated it and two in ten (20%) believe he has represented the threat accurately. Pluralities also believe Congress (42% under-stated vs. 21% over-stated and 11% represented accurately) and Secretary of StateJohn Kerry (41% vs. 12% and 17%, respectively) have under-stated the threat.

These "informed" Americans are somewhat split where U.S. news media are concerned, with 35% saying they have over-stated the threat and 30% saying they have understated it (16% believe they have represented it accurately).

The U.S. military receives more credit than any other party for having represented the threat accurately in recent weeks, with one-third of these Americans indicating they have done so (32% vs. 16% over-stated and 27% under-stated).

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