The public has grown more supportive of the U.S. fight against ISIS, as about twice as many approve (63%) as disapprove (30%) of the military campaign against the Islamic militant group in Iraq and Syria. Last October, 57% approved and 33% disapproved.
The possibility of sending U.S. ground troops to the region is more divisive, although the idea draws more support than it did four months ago. Currently, about as many favor (47%) as oppose (49%) sending U.S. ground troops to fight Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria; in October, 39% favored the idea and 55% opposed it.
The new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Feb. 18-22 among 1,504 adults, also finds a shift over the past year in public attitudes about the best approach for dealing with global terrorism.
In the new survey, 47% say “using overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism around the world.” About as many (46%) say that “relying too much on military force to defeat terrorism creates hatred that leads to more terrorism.”
In the Pew Research Center’s political typology survey, conducted Jan. 23-Mar. 16, 2014, 57% said an over-reliance on military force creates more hatred leading to increased terrorism, while fewer (37%) said that overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat global terrorism.
There is a wide and growing partisan divide in these attitudes: Today, 74% of Republicans say the best way to defeat global terrorism is with “overwhelming force,” up from 57% a year ago. Meanwhile, Democrats’ attitudes are virtually unchanged. Just 30% of Democrats favor the use of overwhelming force to defeat terrorism; 29% said this last March.
While the public has grown more supportive of assertive action against ISIS, many Americans continue to express trepidation about the U.S. becoming too deeply involved in Iraq and Syria. While 49% say their bigger worry about U.S. military action is that it will not go far enough in stopping Islamic militants, nearly as many (46%) say their bigger concern is that the U.S. will go too far in getting involved in the situation. That has changed only modestly since October, although the share voicing more concern about not going far enough to defeat the militants has risen six points (from 43% to 49%).
The partisan differences evident in overall attitudes about the best way to defeat terrorism are reflected in concerns about the ISIS campaign and opinions about whether to dispatch U.S. ground forces to Iraq and Syria. Republicans are about twice as likely as Democrats to favor the use of ground troops to fight Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria (67% vs. 32%). By contrast, more than three times as many Democrats as Republicans say their bigger concern about U.S. military action is that the United States will go too far in getting involved in the (64% vs. 20%).
Meanwhile, the public continues to express skepticism about the effectiveness of the U.S. campaign against ISIS. Nearly six-in-ten (58%) say the military campaign against Islamic militants is going not too well (38%) or not at all well (20%); just 36% think it is going very well (7%) or fairly well (30%). Views about progress of the military campaign are unchanged October.
However, most Americans (60%) think the U.S. effort against ISIS will definitely or probably succeed. A 45% plurality say the U.S. and its allies will probably succeed against the Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, while 15% think they will definitely succeed. About one-third (34%) thinks the campaign will probably fail (28%) or definitely fail (5%). Similar shares of Democrats (62%) and Republicans (61%) expect the to be a success.
The survey also finds that the current U.S. government policy of banning the payment of ransom money for hostages held by terrorist groups has widespread approval. Though the policy has come under some recent criticism, 70% approve of the current U.S. government policy while just 25% disapprove.
Young adults are among the least supportive groups of the policy of not paying money for hostages, though 58% still approve (vs. 38% who disapprove). Among other age groups, about seven-in-ten or more approve of this policy. About eight-in-ten Republicans (78%) approve of the government’s no-ransom policy, compared with 68% of Democrats and 69% of independents.
More Favor Possible Use of Ground Forces to Combat Militants
The share of the public approving of the U.S. military campaign in Iraq and Syria has risen since October, from 57% to 63%.
As was the case in October, more Republicans (70%) than Democrats (58%) approve of the U.S. military campaign against the Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria. There also continues to be a gender gap in support for military action: 70% of men approve of the campaign against ISIS, compared with 56% of women.
Support for the possible use of ground forces also has risen since October, from 39% to 47%. The share of women favoring the U.S. sending ground troops has jumped 11 points since then (compared with a slight five-point increase among men); still, women remain less likely than men to favor deploying U.S. ground forces in Iraq and Syria (41% vs. 52%).
Today, adults 18-29 are the only age group to largely oppose sending troops to the region (59% oppose vs. 39% favor). Older age groups have become somewhat more supportive since October and now are roughly divided between favoring and opposing the possible deployment of ground forces.
Both parties are ideologically divided over the dispatch of U.S. ground troops to Iraq and Syria. About seven-in-ten conservative Republicans (71%) favor the use of ground troops compared with 56% of moderate and liberal Republicans.
Among Democrats, conservatives and moderates are more likely than liberals to favor the use of ground forces (39% vs. 23%). In October, nearly identical percentages of the two groups supported deploying ground forces (28% of conservative and moderate Democrats, 27% of liberal Democrats). Since then, the share of conservative and moderate Democrats favoring the use of U.S. ground forces has increased 11 points while remaining relatively unchanged among liberals.
Concerns About U.S. Military Action
The public remains divided in its concerns about U.S. military action in Iraq and Syria: 49% say their bigger concern is that military action will not go far enough to stop the Islamic militants; 46% say they are more concerned that the U.S. will get too involved in Iraq and Syria.
That mixed sentiment has not shifted significantly since last October. But in August, when the U.S. started limited airstrikes in Iraq, more said they were concerned about the military action getting the U.S. too involved (51%) than not going far enough (32%).
Today, about three-quarters of Republicans (77%) are more concerned that the military action won’t go far enough (20% say their bigger concern is that the U.S. will go too far). By contrast, 64% of Democrats say the bigger worry is that the U.S. will go too far in getting involved and 30% are more concerned about not going far enough. Independents are split, with 47% expressing each concern.
Adults younger than 30 are the most likely to worry that the military campaign will go too far (64%) rather than not far enough (33%). Those ages 30-49 are divided, while a majority of adults 50 and older say they are more concerned that the U.S. will not go far enough to stop the Islamic militants (58% to 35%).
Among those who are more concerned that the U.S. will get too involved in Iraq and Syria, opinion is divided about the current military campaign — 48% approve and 44% disapprove. Support for the military campaign is much higher among those whose bigger worry is that the U.S. will not go far enough to stop the militants (78% approve, 19% disapprove).
Shifting Views on How to Stop Global Terrorism
Americans are divided about how to best defeat global terrorism — a shift from past years. Nearly half (47%) say that using overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat global terrorism; 46% say that relying too much on military force to defeat terrorism creates hatred that leads to more terrorism.
In previous Pew Research surveys in 2014, 2011 and 2004, no more than about four-in-ten (including 37% early last year) said the use of overwhelming force was the best approach for defeating global terrorism.
Republicans and independents have shifted their opinions since last year, while Democrats’ views are largely unchanged. Roughly three-quarters of Republicans (74%) express the view that overwhelming force is the best way to defeat terrorism, up 17 points since early last year; 44% of independents say the same, up 11 points.
Just three-in-ten Democrats (30%) say the best way to stop global terrorism is with overwhelming force, compared with 65% who say relying too much on force leads to more terrorism. Liberal Democrats are more likely than conservative or moderate Democrats to say using overwhelming military force against terrorism creates hatred that leads to more terrorism (80% vs. 58%).
Adults 50 and older are more likely to believe overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism (56% vs. 35% saying too much force creates more terrorism). By comparison, 45% of those ages 30-49 and just 32% of adults under 30 say overwhelming force is the best way to defeat terrorism.