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Public Opinion and the War Against ISIS

Shibley Telhami relays the details of a new survey of American views on the war against ISIS. He notes the continued opposition to sending ground forces into combat:

First, if current efforts to defeat ISIL fail, most Americans say they would still oppose deploying ground forces against ISIL, although a significant minority—41 percent— express openness to more extensive military engagement. But there is a significant difference across party lines that is bound to influence the way the presidential primary debates play themselves out on this issue: A majority of Republicans, 53 percent, say they would support sending ground forces if current efforts fail to defeat ISIL, compared with only 36 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of Independents.

There continues to be a noticeable gap here between the great threat from ISIS that most Americans claim to perceive and the means most are willing to use in the war against the group. I submit that this reflects a belief among many Americans that the threat to the U.S. and our allies isn’t really that great and therefore doesn’t require the larger commitment that deploying ground forces would represent. According to the survey, most respondents that favor sending ground forces don’t take his position because they think ISIS poses a threat to our allies or “vital interests,” but because they still associate the group with Al Qaeda or because they see the group as being especially ruthless. Since the war isn’t necessary to keep the U.S. secure, it is discouraging that there is still so much support for escalation, but that continues to be a minority position by a decent margin.

Telhami is right that there is a difference across party lines on this question, but what is more interesting here is how relatively little Republican support there is for sending ground forces. There is a bare majority in favor of doing this, but almost half of Republican respondents (46%) are opposed as well. Republicans are much more likely than other Americans to favor this option, but there is much less support for this option than the party’s hawkish leaders would like to believe. If the survey is accurate, Republicans are split almost evenly over support for escalating the war, so there is a large bloc of Republicans in the country that supports this war only so long as it doesn’t involve using ground forces.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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