Support for a Libyan No-Fly Zone Comes with Questions about the Future

Mar 14, 2011 11:55am


More than half of Americans support U.S. participation in creating a no-fly zone over Libya, but support for unilateral U.S. military action is lower – and a new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds substantial skepticism about the aims and outcome of political unrest across the region.

Seven in 10 in the national survey express uncertainty that protesters in the Middle East and North Africa are committed to democracy. And sizable numbers see negative impacts of the unrest on U.S. political and economic interests and anti-terrorism efforts alike.

Whatever their compunctions, 56 percent support having U.S. military aircraft participate in efforts to keep Libya’s air force from attacking rebel-held areas. France and Great Britain have been pushing for a U.N.-enforced no-fly zone, the Arab League endorsed it Saturday and foreign ministers of the G8 industrialized nations were expected to discuss it in Paris today.

Public support, however, is hardly solid. When people are asked if the United States itself should create a no-fly zone, rather than participate in one, support declines to 49 percent, with nearly as many opposed. And support drops further, by a quarter, given the prospect of bombing runs on Libyan anti-aircraft positions and continuous air patrols – efforts U.S. military officials have said would be needed.

Support for the United States creating a no-fly zone peaks among Republicans (61 percent) and conservatives (54 percent), falling to fewer than half of Democrats, liberals and independents. Support for participation in such an effort, by contrast, is similar across partisan and ideological lines.

QUESTIONS – There are broader questions about the unrest in the region. Most fundamentally, just 20 percent of Americans see the protests as plainly pro-democratic; 71 percent instead think demonstrators want new governments, but not necessarily democratic ones.

Moreover, 58 percent think that in the long run the outcome of the protests will hurt rather than help U.S. political and economic interests in the region, a view possibly informed by soaring gasoline prices. A plurality, 49 percent, also thinks the unrest will hurt the ability of the United States to fight terrorist groups based in these countries. Just 29 and 33 percent, respectively, think U.S. political and economic interests, or anti-terrorism efforts, will be helped.

The perceived aim of the protesters informs these views. Among Americans who think they seek democratic governments, 55 percent expect that U.S. anti-terrorism efforts will be improved in the long run, and 49 percent see help for U.S. political and economic interests. Among those who question the protesters’ commitment to democracy, fewer than three in 10 say the same.

Additionally, support for a no-fly zone in Libya is higher among people who think protests in the region ultimately will help, rather than hurt, U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.

President Obama, for his part, gets split ratings for handling the situation in the region overall – 45 percent approve, 44 percent disapprove, largely along partisan lines. On Libya particularly, an identical 45 percent approve, while 36 percent disapprove, with more undecided.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York.

Click here for the full results, and check back for more from the new ABC/Post poll.

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