Republicans, Independents Unite on Syria Opposition

Steven Shepard
National Journal

This week's United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, which found deep and broad resistance to proposed U.S. military action against the Syrian government, showed the extent to which Republicans and independents are now aligned in their opposition to U.S. foreign intervention under President Obama.

Fifty-five percent of Americans—given four options ranging from doing nothing to a full-scale military strike to help the rebels overthrow Bashar al-Assad's government—would prefer the U.S. do nothing and stay out of the Syrian civil war. While a strong plurality of Democrats, 48 percent, chose this option, Republicans and independents saw virtually eye-to-eye, with 60 percent and 58 percent, respectively, saying they want the U.S. to do nothing.

Moreover, on each of the other five questions related to the proposed Syrian intervention in the poll, there was little or no statistical difference in the responses of Republicans and independents, while Democrats tended to be more supportive of the Obama administration's position.

How did Republicans and independents come to occupy the same ground on certain aspects of U.S. foreign policy? It starts with a general sense of war weariness that has acutely affected independents—those Americans who tend to be most disillusioned with politics and government to begin with.

In a CNN/USA Today Gallup poll conducted in late February of 2003, just before the U.S. began a ground and air assault of Iraq, 59 percent of Americans favored going to war with Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein, while 37 percent were opposed. The percentage of independents who favored war (52 percent) was halfway between the percentages of Democrats (22 percent) and Republicans (82 percent) who favored the effort. Since Iraq, independents have soured on U.S. military commitments: They were less approving than Democrats or Republicans of military action in Libya, for example.

So how did Republican support sink to match those who don't identify with a party? The Syria effort became associated with Obama. Over Labor Day weekend, as the administration began to make its case, support for strikes among Republicans (43 percent) outpaced both Democrats (42 percent) and independents (30 percent) in an ABC News/Washington Post poll. A week later, GOP support collapsed to 24 percent, a tick lower than among independents (26 percent).

The latest poll, conducted Sept. 5-8 by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,002 adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.