June 17, 2013

Public Remains Opposed to Arming Syrian Rebels

Six-in-Ten Say Opposition May Be No Better than Current Government

Overview

Broad majorities continue to oppose the U.S. and its allies sending arms and military supplies to anti-government groups in Syria. Last Thursday’s announcement that the U.S. would aid the rebels has not increased1 public support for action, and majorities of all partisan groups are opposed.

Overall, 70% oppose the U.S. and its allies sending arms and military supplies to anti-government groups in Syria; just 20% favor this. Opinion is little changed from December of last year (24% favor) and support is down slightly from March, 2012 (29% favor).

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted June 12-16 among 1,512 adults, finds a major factor in overall attitudes about Syria is the impression2 that the U.S. military is already stretched thin. About two-thirds (68%) say the U.S. is too overcommitted to get involved in another conflict, and just 27% disagree. The public also has questions about the opposition groups in Syria: 60% say that they may be no better than the current government.

At the same time, the public does not reject a key argument for involvement in Syria: by a 53%-36% margin, most agree that it is important for the U.S. to support people who oppose authoritarian regimes.

The public is divided over whether the U.S. has a moral obligation to do what it can to stop the violence in Syria: 49% agree, 46% disagree.

Most Republicans and Democrats Oppose Arming Rebels

There is very little partisan divide in attitudes about the conflict in Syria. Majorities of independents (74%), Republicans (71%) and Democrats (66%) oppose the U.S. and its allies sending arms and military supplies to anti-government groups in Syria.

Nearly identical majorities of Democrats (69%), independents (69%) and Republicans (68%) also believe that U.S. 3military forces are too overcommitted to get involved in another conflict.

Independents (66%) and Republicans (64%) are most concerned that the opposition groups in Syria may be no better than the current government, but 52% of Democrats also agree with this statement.

By a 58%-38% margin, more Democrats agree than disagree that the U.S. has a moral obligation to do what it can to stop the violence in Syria. Republicans are split with 49% saying the U.S. has a moral obligation to do what it can to stop the violence, and 48% saying it does not have this responsibility. Most independents (53%) disagree that the U.S. has a moral obligation to stop the violence in Syria.

The survey, conducted from Wednesday, June 12 through Sunday, June 16, found no significant trend in opinion about Syria over the course of the five nights of fieldwork. In the first two nights of interviewing 69% opposed arming Syrian rebels, in the final three nights of fieldwork 71% were opposed.

Low Public Interest in Syria News

Even amidst developments on the ground in Syria and the announcement of U.S. plans to aid anti-government groups there, the public continues to pay very little 4attention to news about Syria. In a separate survey conducted Thursday through Sunday, just 15% say they are following news about charges that Syria has used chemical weapons against anti-government groups very closely, far fewer than are following other stories such as the government’s collection of communication information (35%) and news about the national economy (30%). In fact, 33% say they are following news about Syria not at all closely.

Partisans express similarly low levels of interest in the conflict in Syria. Just 12% of Democrats, 14% of Republicans and 17% of independents say they are following charges that Syria used chemical weapons very closely.

Those Who Favor Arming Rebels Also Have Concerns

The 20% of the public that favors arming anti-government groups in Syria also expresses concerns about the U.S.5 getting involved. More than half (56%) of those who favor arming rebels agree with the statement that U.S. military forces are too overcommitted to get involved in another conflict, and 55% agree that the opposition groups in Syria may be no better than the current government. However, far larger majorities agree that it is important for the U.S. to support people who oppose authoritarian regimes (76%) and that the U.S. has a moral obligation to do what it can to stop the violence in Syria (75%).

To a lesser extent, those who oppose arming the rebels are sympathetic to some arguments for greater U.S. involvement in Syria. About half of those who oppose arming rebels (48%) agree that it is important for the U.S. to support people who oppose authoritarian regimes; 41% say the U.S. has a moral obligation to do what it can to stop the violence in Syria.