March 28, 2011

Modest Support for Libya Airstrikes, No Clear Goal Seen

Little Public Interest in Libyan Mission

Overview

After several days of airstrikes on Libya by the United States and its allies, the public has mixed reactions to the military operation. Nearly half of Americans (47%) say the United States made the right decision in conducting air strikes in Libya while 36% say it was the wrong decision. Fully one-in-six (17%) express no opinion.

On balance, however, the public does not think that the U.S. and its allies have a clear goal in taking military action in Libya. Just 39% say the U.S. and its allies have a clear goal, while 50% say they do not.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted March 24-27 among 1,002 adults, finds modest public attentiveness to the events in Libya. Just 15% say they are following the airstrikes more closely than any other story of the week. Nearly four times as many people (57%) cite the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami as their top story of the week, according to Pew Research’s weekly News Interest Index. (For more, see this week’s weekly News Interest Index, which will be released Tuesday, March 29.)

Most Americans see a fairly lengthy involvement for the United States in the Libyan operation. Six-in-ten (60%) think the U.S. involvement in military action in Libya will last for some time; just 33% expect that it will be over pretty quickly.

Americans are about evenly divided over whether the aim of military action by the United States and its allies should be to remove Moammar Gadhafi from power or not: 46% say the goal of military action should include Gadhafi’s removal while 43% say the U.S. and its allies should focus only on protecting Libyan civilians from violence.

Notably, most people do not view the United States as the lead actor in the military operation. Fully 57% say that the United States “is just one of a coalition of countries” involved in the military mission; far fewer (35%) say the United States “is leading the military action.”

Little Partisanship in Libya Views

There is little indication that views of the Libyan military operation are breaking along political lines. About half of Republicans (54%) and Democrats (49%) say the decision by the U.S. and its allies to launch airstrikes was right. Among independents, 44% see the airstrikes as the right decision, while nearly as many (41%) say they are the wrong decision.

About four-in-ten Republicans (41%) say the U.S. and its allies have a clear goal in Libya, as do 48% of Democrats. Independents by a wide margin (57% to 35%) say the United States and its allies do not have a clear goal in taking military action in Libya.

Other attitudes regarding the Libyan mission – including whether the ultimate aim should be Gadhafi’s removal – also show relatively little partisanship. Republicans, by 50% to 36%, say the goal of the airstrikes should include Gadhafi’s removal. About half of Democrats (49%) say Gadhafi’s removal should be a goal of military action while 43% say the mission should be focused only on protecting civilians. Independents are evenly divided (45% remove Gadhafi, 46% only protect civilians).