With Americans deeply divided over President Trump, their response to a US attack on Syria is hard to gauge, Gallup's editor-in-chief has told DW. But he's confident about this — Republicans will back Trump's decision.
How prepared are Americans to support the expected US military strike against Syria announced by President Trump on Twitter earlier this week?
It's hard to know about this specific situation because we have not asked in the last day or two about this situation, but based on previous military interventions going back decades where we asked people just after it occurred, generally Americans are more positive than negative. That included a year ago when President Trump authorized military action against Syria where it was net positive approve over disapprove, and then you go back in time to actions against Iraq and Libya and going back all the way to Ronald Reagan, when we actually had troops land on the island of Grenada, reactions were also more negative.
Expect, based on history, that if there was to be a strike, the reaction would be more positive than negative. But we are in a very polarized environment in the US right now, so I would imagine reactions would be positive among Republicans and negative among Democrats and then the key would be how those two wash out when you add them together to see what the overall reaction is.
You mentioned last year's Trump authorized Syria strike and found that its approval was comparatively low. What could this tell us about how Americans might view the expected, upcoming military attack on Syria, especially since it was announced in a historically unusual fashion by a presidential tweet taunting Russia and Iran, countries that both have military personnel in Syria? Do you think this could have an impact on how Americans perceive this?
Last year's action was net positive by nine points. It wasn't much different than our action against Libya, which President Obama had authorized in 2011. But it's hard to speculate, and one of the reasons we continue to do polling is we don't know how all of this is going to come together and how Americans will react. The pretext for this, if it were to happen, would be a chemical attack, which always sounds bad to Americans. But we don't know.
What we do know from all of our polling from the last years is that Americans are extremely polarized. Anything that President Trump does, generally Republicans in the US are going to approve. And most of the things that Trump does in the US Democrats disapprove of. I imagine that would be the reaction to the strikes.
What the overall reaction to such a strike would be really depends on if some Democrats came around and approve as opposed to their very natural reaction from everything we have seen over the last year, which is to be negative about anything Trump does. That's going to be the key. I am pretty sure Republicans will approve by 80 or 90 percent based on history, so the real question is what Democrats are going to do.
There is concern that a US military strike in Syria, a conflict where not just Russia and Iran, but also Turkey and other nations are engaged, could lead to unintended consequences and trigger responses from other nations. What would be the likely impact on US public opinion if the military action does not go as planned?
We don't know and that is why we continue to poll. If this attack is done in concert with Britain and France, who have ships in the Mediterranean now, and it is all done together that might affect public opinion. Also, if there is an immediate, negative reaction from Russia or others that might affect public opinion. But it is hard to say right now.
But I will say again that I am pretty sure that Republicans will approve regardless of any of the above in this country now. They will approve almost anything Trump does. The real question will be how Democrats and to some degree Independents are going to react.
Frank Newport is editor-in-chief of Gallup.
The interview was conducted by Michael Knigge.