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Republican Voters Are Largely Backing Trump’s Withdrawal From Syria

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

On Sunday, Oct. 6, President Trump publicly called for withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria. Since then, as U.S. troops have hastily withdrawn from their position, Turkish, Russian, and Syrian government forces have advanced into the region. The American withdrawal has been met with bipartisan disapproval from Congress, where two-thirds of Republicans in the House voted with Democrats to condemn the president’s decision. Even some of Trump’s staunchest Republican allies opposed the move. South Carolina Senator Linsey Graham, who normally votes with the president, called the withdrawal a “stain on the honor of the United States.”

But while the measure has been unpopular among Republican lawmakers, rank-and-file members of the party may not be as opposed. There have only been four polls so far since Trump announced he would withdraw troops from Syria, and while all four showed that mainly Americans oppose the withdrawal, there was a stark partisan split — Republican voters aren’t broadly opposed to Trump’s decision.

  • First up, a YouGov/CBS News poll conducted Oct. 8-11 found that a plurality of Americans (41 percent) said they didn’t know enough about the situation to determine whether they supported removing troops from the region, while 24 percent approved of withdrawing troops and 34 percent disapproved of the move. But among Republicans, 41 percent approved of the decision to withdraw troops. (The majority of Democrats opposed it.)
  • A Morning Consult/Politico poll conducted Oct. 11-13 found that a 41 percent plurality of Americans opposed withdrawing troops, but unlike the YouGov/CBS News poll, this poll did not give respondents the option of saying they hadn’t heard enough to know how the felt. A majority of Republicans (56 percent) supported removing troops from the region, while the majority of Democrats (60 percent) opposed it.
  • A YouGov/Economist poll conducted Oct. 13-15 asked respondents whether they supported removing U.S. troops and “leaving Syrian Kurds who fought against ISIS vulnerable to attack from the Turkish military.” That poll found a majority (52 percent) of Americans were opposed. Seventy-six percent of Democrats opposed military withdrawal, but a majority of Republicans (57 percent) supported it.
  • And lastly, a USA Today/IPSOS poll conducted Oct. 16-17 asked respondents whether withdrawing troops was the right decision because “the U.S. has too many military commitments abroad” or the wrong decision because it will “upset stability in a dangerous region.” Twenty-seven percent said it was the right decision, while 37 percent said it was the wrong decision. A 41 percent plurality of Republicans thought withdrawal was the right decision while only 15 percent of Democrats said the same.

This isn’t the first time Trump has announced plans to remove troops from Syria. But the public wasn’t as opposed before. YouGov/Economist started asking Americans whether they’d support removing troops from Syria in April 2018 after Trump called for withdrawal. At that time, slightly more Americans were in favor (36 percent) than opposed (28 percent). And even after Trump called for the removal of troops again in December, Americans were still about evenly split (39 percent approved; 37 percent disapproved). But this time around, Trump’s decision to remove troops from the region is not as popular. As the table below shows, net support for withdrawing troops has decreased since last year, especially among Democrats and independents. But support among Republicans has stayed relatively high since December.

Support for withdrawing troops from Syria fell … mostly

Net support for removing troops from Syria over time, by party, according to YouGov/Economist polls

NET Support
Date Do you approve of the U.S. … ALL DEM. IND. REP.
April 8-10, 2018 Withdrawing troops +8 +3 +18 -4
Dec 23-25, 2018 Immediately withdrawing troops +2 -32 +11 27
Feb 2-5, 2019 Immediately withdrawing troops -1 -35 +7 29
Oct 13-15, 2019 Withdrawing troops, leaving Syrian Kurds vulnerable -24 -66 -19 31

Source: YouGov/Economist Polls

However, we don’t want to read too much into Republican support for Trump’s decision to remove troops from Syria. And that’s because many Americans are still getting up to speed on the situation. Remember, in that YouGov/CBS News poll, a plurality of Americans said they didn’t know enough to say whether they supported removing troops from the region. And according to that Morning Consult/Politico poll, 40 percent of registered voters had heard either “nothing at all” or “not much” about the Turkish offensive (including 45 percent of Republicans, and 34 percent of Democrats). A third of voters also said they have heard little or nothing about the U.S. troop pullout. And that USA Today/Ipsos poll also found that 42 percent of Americans — including 45 percent of Republicans — had either not heard about the U.S. decision to withdraw troops or knew little about it.

There are some early signs, though, that even as they learn more, Republican voters may not sour on Trump’s decision. The Morning Consult/Politico poll also conducted an “informed ballot” test to see whether respondents’ answers changed after they were presented with arguments from both sides. The pollster told respondents that opponents of Trump’s decision said it amounts to “abandoning the Kurds” and that it “could lead to ISIS gaining ground in the area,” and said supporters of the president argued that “it’s time to keep the U.S. out of foreign wars.” After being presented with this information, 60 percent of Republicans supported Trump’s decision to remove troops from Syria, a slight increase from the 56 percent who backed the move without being given these arguments first.

If Republican voters continue to support Trump’s position, though, Republican politicians may have to fall in line.

Other polling bites

  • Last week, Trump took aim at Fox News’s pollster after their latest poll showed results that were unfavorable to him, including growing support for impeachment. “Whoever their Pollster is, they suck,” he tweeted, following up again on Monday with another tweet calling the poll “incorrect.” His assessment appears to be based on an article from the New York Post that attributed the poll to Braun Research and attempted to re-weight the poll under the assumption that the partisan breakdown of respondents was not in line with real-world party affiliations. While Braun did conduct fieldwork for the poll, Fox News polls are conducted under the joint direction of a Democrat working for Beacon Research and a Republican with Shaw & Company Research, and they are among the more accurate polls around. Reweighting polls based on party identification, which has come to be known as “unskewing,” is generally a methodologically flawed way of interpreting polling data, and it has led to misleading results in the past.
  • A FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll, which asked respondents to rate each candidates’ debate performance on a four-point scale, found that Sen. Elizabeth Warren was ranked highest by those who watched the debate. But South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg saw the largest increase in the share of voters who were considering voting for him before and after the debate — an increase of 4.5 percentage points.
  • According to a poll from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, 57 percent of Americans either “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that the Supreme Court “gets too mixed up in politics.” A majority of Americans, however, still think that the court acts “in the best interests of the American people” and that it has “about the right amount of power.”
  • Over a quarter of American adults are now religiously unaffiliated, according to a Pew Research Center study, up from 17 percent in 2009.
  • According to a poll conducted last weekend by Public Policy Polling for the Chicago Sun-Times and ABC7 Chicago, 49 percent of Chicagoans either “strongly” or “somewhat” support a teachers strike, while 38 percent opposed it. The strike was announced Wednesday evening, and classes in Chicago were canceled as of Thursday.
  • A YouGov poll asked Americans about the NBA’s priorities in light of backlash from Chinese companies, following theHouston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey tweeting support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters. Two-thirds of respondents said the NBA should prioritize freedom of speech for its employees more, 8 percent said it should prioritize its business interests more, and about a quarter said they don’t know.
  • According to a recent poll from Siena College, a quarter of New Yorkers support a bill in the New York State legislature to divide New York State in two states. Two-thirds of New Yorkers said they oppose the bill. The bill stipulates that one of the two states would be New York City and the surrounding areas, while the other would be the remaining 53 counties in the state.
  • Bolivians go to the polls on Sunday to elect a president. In late 2017, the country’s highest court scrapped term limits altogether, paving the way for current president Evo Morales to run for his fourth consecutive term. In order to win in the first-round election, Morales must get above 40 percent of the vote and have a 10-point lead over his second-place rival. While Morales is leading, some recent polls have left him just shy of 40 percent, indicating that he may not be able to avoid a runoff election, but others have put him at just over the 40 percent mark.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 41.6 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 54 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -12.4 points). At this time last week, 42.0 percent approved and 53.7 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -11.7 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 41.8 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.7 percent, for a net approval rating of -11.9 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 6.3 percentage points (46.6 percent to 40.3 percent). At this time last week, Democrats led by 6.1 percentage points (46.2 percent to 40.1 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 6.8 points (46.8 percent to 40 percent).

Check out our impeachment polls tracker.

Dhrumil Mehta is a database journalist at FiveThirtyEight focusing on politics.

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