Fox News Poll: Despite chemical weapons, voters oppose US action in Syria

As President Obama gets ready to address the nation on Syria on Tuesday, a majority of voters say the Syrian government used chemical weapons on its citizens.  Even so, most say the United States should stay out of that country’s civil war.

A Fox News poll released Monday also finds disapproval of Obama’s handling of Syria has jumped to 60 percent, up from 40 percent in May.  And more voters describe him as a “weak and indecisive leader” on foreign policy (48 percent) than a “strong and decisive leader” (42 percent).

Overall, 40 percent approve of the job Obama’s doing as president, while a record-high 54 percent disapprove. Approval of Obama’s performance has only been this low once before (December 2010).

Click here for the poll results:

Deterioration in Obama’s job rating is driven mainly by his own party; He receives record-low approval (69 percent) and record-high disapproval (25 percent) among Democrats.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s approval rating is higher than the president’s:  43 percent approve, while 40 percent disapprove and 17 percent are unsure.

The poll asks voters about four military actions the U.S. could take in response to more than 100,000 dead and the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war.

No option is supported by a majority of voters.

The one with the most backing is using force to degrade Syria’s capacity to use chemical weapons in the future: 42 percent favor that, while 52 percent oppose it.

Voters also oppose using force to help the anti-government rebels (by 67-27 percent), and to send a message to Iran about using chemical weapons (by 61-36 percent).

Despite two-thirds of voters (66 percent) saying the Syrian government used gas on its citizens, just 36 percent favor using force to punish Syria for that (61 percent oppose).

Even among just those who believe Syria used gas on its citizens, more oppose (53 percent) than support (42 percent) using force as punishment.

Veterans are more likely than non-veterans to oppose each of the four options.

Majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents oppose each of the options -- with one exception: Democrats are more likely to favor (50 percent) than oppose (44 percent) action to degrade Syria’s capacity to use chemical weapons.

All in all, 15 percent of voters are in favor of all four of the military responses, while 39 percent oppose all four. Almost half of Republicans (47 percent) oppose all four options, while 21 percent of Democrats favor all four.

The new poll finds a 57-percent majority says Obama hasn’t adequately explained why U.S. action against Syria is necessary, and 67 percent say he hasn’t clearly identified what the goals would be in taking action.

Two-thirds think the U.S. should stay out of Syria because it’s a civil war and the U.S. could end up helping anti-American extremists (68 percent). That’s unchanged from earlier this year.

Also, most voters think taking action will provoke (74 percent) rather than prevent (15 percent) additional violence in the Middle East.

Opinion is fairly divided over whether U.S. national security interests are at stake in Syria: 48 percent say yes, while 43 percent disagree.  Democrats (+8 percentage points) and independents (+2 points) lean toward believing U.S. interests are at stake, while Republicans lean just slightly toward saying they aren’t (+1 point).

There’s widespread agreement the president should generally get the consent of Congress before authorizing military action (78 percent).  That includes most independents (82 percent), Democrats (76 percent) and Republicans (75 percent).

If Congress votes against action in Syria, 58 percent think Obama would still have the authority to go forward.  And by a 50-36 percent margin, voters think Obama would still go it alone.

Obama’s “Red Line” Comment

Last August, President Obama said the use of chemical weapons by Syria would be a “red line” that, if crossed, would bring about a diplomatic and military response from the U.S. If he hadn’t said that, would we be considering military action right now?  Some 48 percent say yes, we would be in the same spot.  Yet almost as many -- 44 percent -- say we wouldn’t.

Then just a week ago Obama insisted he didn’t draw a red line on Syria -- it was Congress and the international community who did so through previous agreements on chemical weapons. Fifty-four percent of voters think Obama was ducking responsibility for his earlier red-line statement, while 35 percent say he was stating an historical and political fact.

On the whole, voters disagree that crossing a red line mandates a military response:  just 34 percent say the U.S. should respond with force “anytime a country uses weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical weapons.” And while 39 percent believe the U.S. has a “moral responsibility” to act when chemical weapons are used, 56 percent say it doesn’t.

In general, 44 percent of voters say Obama is good at taking personal responsibility for his words and actions, while 50 percent say he spends too much time blaming others.

The Fox News poll is based on land-line and cell phone interviews with 900 randomly chosen registered voters nationwide and was conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) from September 6 to September 8. The full poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.