Americans’ Views On Syria Changed A Lot In A Year. Polarization Helps Explain Why.

Americans’ views about the responsibility of the United States to address fighting in Syria have fractured along political lines, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds.

Back in April 2018, voters on both sides of the political aisle were relatively split, according to an Economist/YouGov poll. Among Donald Trump voters, 38% said the U.S. had no responsibility to do anything, while 30% said it did. Among Hillary Clinton voters, 38% said yes, there was a responsibility and 32% said no. 

In this month’s poll, however, the two blocs have coalesced around opposing positions. Trump voters now say, 56% to 21%, that the U.S. doesn’t have such a responsibility, while Clinton voters say, 68% to 13%, that it does.

There are slight differences in how the question was worded between this year and last year. But there’s another possible explanation for the change: The public’s views on the issue have never been very deeply held. Only 26% of Americans say they’re following news about Syria very closely, and more than 4 in 10 are not following it even somewhat closely. When people are asked about political issues they’re not familiar with, many tend, not irrationally, to rely on partisan cues. And most Americans do have strong, pre-existing opinions about President Trump ― especially his opponents.

In the latest HuffPost/YouGov survey, ratings for Trump on this issue hew largely to the same partisan patterns as his ratings in general. A near-universal 89% of Trump voters approve of the president’s handling of foreign policy as a whole, with a similar 91% of Clinton voters disapproving ― numbers that look notably similar to Trump’s overall job approval rating. Opinions on his handling of Syria are only slightly less polarized, with 77% of Trump voters approving and 84% of Clinton voters disapproving.

There are some limits to Trump’s ability to shape his base’s perceptions of Syria, especially when other Republican leaders have publicly condemned his actions. In an Economist/YouGov poll released this week, two-thirds of Trump voters said they supported the decision to “withdraw U.S. forces from the area near the international border between Syria and Turkey which has had the effect of leaving Syrian Kurds who fought against ISIS vulnerable to attack from the Turkish military.” Just one-third, though, strongly approved. By contrast, 77% of Clinton voters in that poll strongly disapproved of the decision.

Overall, Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of foreign policy by 49% to 37%, the HuffPost/YouGov survey finds, and disapprove of how he’s handling the situation in Syria by 46% to 33%. Assessing the president’s skills as a negotiator, 40% say he’s at least somewhat effective and 46% say he’s not very or not at all effective. On his strength as a leader, 43% say Trump is somewhat or very strong and 46% call him somewhat or very weak. Just 30% say leaders of other countries around the world respect Trump, with 51% saying other leaders don’t have much respect for him.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:

Here’s what some other recent polling on the Syria conflict has found:

CNN: “Three-quarters of Americans are concerned about the situation in Syria and many see a reemergence of ISIS as likely following recent changes in US policy, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS. But the country is divided over how to proceed. Just over half (51%) think the US has a responsibility to remain involved in the ongoing conflict in Syria, while 43% do not.”

Quinnipiac:Only 35 percent of voters approve of the way President Trump is handling foreign policy, while 61 percent disapprove. Voters also disapprove of the way he is handling national security 56 – 41 percent and the way he is handling the nation’s policy toward the Middle East 58 – 36 percent. Voters disapprove 60 – 30 percent of President Trump’s decision to remove U.S. military support from the Kurds in northern Syria. Democrats disapprove 86 – 7 percent, independents disapprove 63 – 27 percent, while Republicans approve 55 – 31 percent.”

Reuters/Ipsos:[O]nly about half of all Republicans – 54% – said their party has a better plan than Democrats, independents or others for dealing with Syria. That is down 12 points from a similar poll that ran in April. At the same time, 65% of Republicans said their party had the better plan for managing the United States’ so-called ‘War on Terror,’ down 10 points from the April poll. … The poll also showed that 75% of Republicans approved of the way that Trump was dealing with the Islamic State (ISIS), which is down by about 8 points from April.”

Politico/Morning Consult: “Few voters are on board with President Donald Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll that also shows fatigue over the nation’s military entanglements around the world. Only 37 percent of voters support Trump’s decision regarding Syria, the poll shows, less than the 43 percent who oppose it. But a sizable number, 20 percent, say they don’t have an opinion about Trump’s decision.”

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Oct. 17-18 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some but not all potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.