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New Study: US Opinion Shifts Toward Military Action Against ISIS

Americans are becoming steadily more favorable to employing military force in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists, according to a study just released by the Pew Research Center.

In just four months, the percentage of U.S. citizens who approve of the military campaign against ISIS has increased substantially, from 57% in October to 63% now, with those who disapprove dropping from 33% to 30% in the same period. This means that now more than twice as many Americans are favorable to the campaign as in opposition.

The new study was conducted from February 18-22 and comprised 1,504 American adults.

Regarding the use of U.S. ground troops in Iraq and Syria, opinions are more divided but still show a shift in favor of engagement. Four months ago, just 39% of Americans approved of the idea of sending U.S. ground troops to combat ISIS, whereas the number is now 47%. In October, 55% were against the idea of deploying ground troops, but the figure has now shrunk to 49%.

The national survey also asked people their opinions regarding the best way to defeat global terrorism. While 47% replied that “using overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism around the world,” nearly the same percentage (46%) said that “relying too much on military force to defeat terrorism creates hatred that leads to more terrorism.”

The popular appraisal of the effectiveness of the use of military force against terrorism has undergone a significant transition in the last year. A year ago, Pew Research conducted another survey where 57% of respondents said that an over-reliance on military force creates more hatred leading to increased terrorism, while only 37% said that overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat global terrorism.

As can be expected, the partisan divide on the use of military force in the fight against the Islamic State is wide. What may not be so obvious is the willingness to change opinions in the face of new data. Only 30% of Democrats favor the use of overwhelming force to defeat terrorism, practically the same figure from a year ago (20%). Republicans, on the other hand, have shown greater sensitivity to the actions of the Islamic State in the past year, and the percentage favorable to the use of “overwhelming force” to defeat global terrorism has jumped from just 57% a year ago to 74% today.

As a whole, Americans continue to express confidence in the capability of the U.S. military to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and here the partisan divide is negligible. A majority of Americans (60%) think the U.S. campaign against ISIS will “definitely or probably succeed.” Just over a third of those surveyed (34%) said they think U.S. efforts in the region will probably or definitely fail.

American adults express different concerns regarding U.S. military involvement in fighting global terrorism. For example, 46% say their “bigger concern is that the U.S. will go too far in getting involved in the situation.” A slightly higher number, however, express the opposite concern: that the U.S. will not go far enough—a sort of Vietnam syndrome. Among U.S. adults, 49% say their “bigger worry about U.S. military action is that it will not go far enough in stopping Islamic militants.” Since last October, the percentage of Americans worried about the country not going far enough to defeat the jihadists has climbed from 43% to 49%.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.

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