An F/A 18 Hornet coming from Iraq lands on the flight deck of the USS George H.W. Bush on August 10, 2014.

An F/A 18 Hornet coming from Iraq lands on the flight deck of the USS George H.W. Bush on August 10, 2014. Hasan Jamali/AP

What Isolationists? Poll Finds Americans Like Air Strikes

The latest poll from the Pew Research Center finds an American public shifting its tone on intervention, much like the 1999 strikes against Serbia once did. By James M. Lindsay

Last December the Pew Research Center made news with a poll that suggested that a majority of Americans wanted to stay out of world affairs. Today Pew released a poll about U.S. airstrikes on Iraq that throws some cold water on the Americans-are-embracing-isolationism storyline.

Pew’s December poll found that 52 percent of the public thinks the United States should mind its own business internationally. That is the highest response recorded for a question that pollsters have been asking for a half century. It’s also about twenty percentage points higher than a decade ago.

Based on those results, most Americans should oppose the renewed U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. But instead of finding opposition, the latest Pew poll finds that 54 percent of Americans approve of the airstrikes and just 31 percent disapprove. That support is comparable to the support the public showed for the 1999 U.S. airstrikes against Serbia in the Kosovo. Just as important, majority support for airstrikes in Iraq exists even though 51 percent of Americans worry that the result could lead the United States to “go too far in getting involved in the situation.” That suggests public support would be even higher if Americans were confident about President Obama’s pledge that “I will not allow the United States to be dragged into another war in Iraq.”

Today’s poll also raises doubts about suggestions that isolationist or non-interventionist arguments are resonating with the Republican base. Not only do Republicans back U.S. airstrikes by a 71-14 margin, support among self-identified “conservative Republicans” for acting in Iraq is rising. In July, 45 percent of conservative Republicans said the United States has a responsibility to do something about violence in Iraq; this month 68 percent do. Senator Rand Paul’s critics no doubt will note that opinion shift.

As with any single poll, caveats abound. Sampling error, question wording, timing and a slew of other methodological gremlins could distort the reported results. But given the sizable tilt in public opinion in support of the airstrikes, it seems safe to say that Americans aren’t quite as eager to turn their back on the rest of the world as many policymakers and pundits seem to think.

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