Results Gauge U.S. Sentiment on Various Middle East Developments
Results from two new University of Maryland Critical Issues Polls (UMCIP) measure American public opinion on a range of recent events in the Middle East, including the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, the Saudi oil field attacks, and U.S. military involvement in Iran and Afghanistan.
Syria and Iran
In one poll, fielded October 4-10, less than a quarter of respondents (24%) said they supported President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria. As with many issues, findings reflected a partisan divide: Only 8% of Democrats supported the President’s decision compared to 42% of Republicans who said the same. Of those who said they opposed the move, 66% were Democrats and 23% were Republicans.
While a separate UMCIP survey was being fielded September 3-20, an attack took place on Saudi oil fields, setting up a unique opportunity to measure the impact of the event on American attitudes toward Iran, which was implicated in the attack.
“The attacks on the Saudi oil fields on September 14 split our sample of over 3,000 Americans almost down the middle, allowing for a real-time testing of reactions,” said Professor Shibley Telhami, Director of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll. “We found that the attack increased disapproval of U.S. Iran policy, but, strikingly, had no impact on the strong opposition to military action across the political divide.”
Before the Saudi oil field attack, 39% of Americans said they thought the odds of the U.S. going to war with Iran were higher than they were three years ago. After the act, that number grew to 51%. Meanwhile, overall disapproval with the U.S.’s involvement in Iran grew from 51% before the oil field attack to 57% afterward.
Meanwhile, in the October poll, Americans are united across party lines on certain issues concerning Afghanistan. Sixty-one percent of Americans are supportive of the decreased U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, including 71% of Republicans and 53% of Democrats. A plurality of Americans (38%) think that America’s military involvement in Afghanistan was neither successful nor unsuccessful and the same percentage of Republicans and Democrats feel the same way.
While Americans across party lines might have similar views on some issues regarding Afghanistan, they do not agree on whether it was a mistake to send U.S. troops to the country in 2001. Polls results show a 20-point difference between Democrats (47%) and Republicans (27%) who consider it a mistake while 49% of Republicans and 29% of Democrats said it was the correct choice. In addition, Democrats (60%) are twice as likely as Republicans (30%) to say that the U.S. has an obligation toward the Afghan government and citizens impacted by the intervention, regardless of whether it was justified or not. A plurality of all Americans (44%) say that the U.S. does have an obligation to the country.
These results are part of two larger polls conducted by the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll that dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, religion and other important issues. The questionnaire for these polls can be found and the link to the full PowerPoint presentation can be accessed .
About the Survey Methodology
September 2019: The survey was carried out September 3-20, 2019 online from a nationally representative sample of Nielsen Scarborough's probability-based panel, originally recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of adults provided by Survey Sampling International. The poll was conducted among a national poll of 3,016 respondents, with a margin of error of +/- 1.78%. Overall, the sample was adjusted to reflect population estimates (Scarborough USA+/Gallup) for Americans. The survey variables balanced through weighting were: age, gender, race/ethnicity, household income, level of education, census regional division, and political party affiliation.
October 2019: The survey was carried out October 4-10, 2019 online from a nationally representative sample of Nielsen Scarborough's probability-based panel, originally recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of adults provided by Survey Sampling International. The poll was conducted among a national poll of 1,260 respondents (958 for the Syria question), with a margin of error of +/- 2.76%. Overall, the sample was adjusted to reflect population estimates (Scarborough USA+/Gallup) for Americans. The survey variables balanced through weighting were: age, gender, race/ethnicity, household income, level of education, census regional division, and political party affiliation.
About the UMD Critical Issues Poll
probes domestic and international issues that are central for our policy discourse. Professor Shibley Telhami serves as the director of the Critical Issues Poll and Associate Professor Stella Rouse serves as its associate director.