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5 takeaways from CNN's Syria poll

By Paul Steinhauser, CNN Political Director
updated 6:32 AM EDT, Mon September 9, 2013
  • The majority that opposes resolution on Syria strike cuts across age, gender and regional lines
  • Public says it would oppose military action even if Congress passes resolution
  • Large majority believe that Bashar al-Assad's regime is behind chemical weapons attack

Washington (CNN) -- As he continues to try to make his case to launch a military strike against Syria, a new national survey indicates that public opinion is against President Barack Obama. But that's not the only headline from our new CNN/ORC International survey. Here are five things we learned from the numbers.

1. Most Americans want Congress to vote no

The CNN/ORC International poll appears to be the first national survey to ask Americans about the congressional resolution to allow force against military Syria, and the results are quite clear: 59% of those questioned say they don't think Congress should pass a resolution that would authorize military action against Syria for either a 60- to 90-day period and bar U.S ground troops from getting involved, while about four in 10 say federal lawmakers should pass such a resolution.

And that majority goes across the board -- men, women, older and younger Americans and majorities from all regions of the country. There is, however, a partisan divide, with a majority of Democrats backing Obama and a majority of Republicans and independents saying that lawmakers should not pass the resolution.

Another way to gauge public sentiment: While most of those questioned said their vote would not be affected by how their members of Congress stand on the Syrian resolution, by a nearly 3-1 margin the remaining people said they'd be more likely to vote against their lawmakers if they supported the resolution.

2. The public says no to air strikes

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Either a majority or a plurality of Americans opposed U.S. military action against Syrian forces in four previous national polls conducted over the past couple of weeks. CNN's survey makes it five.

But the CNN poll goes a little deeper: A majority (55%) say they'd oppose a U.S. military strike even if Congress passes the resolution. And while Obama has not said whether he'll launch a strike even if Congress votes down the resolution, the poll is clear on what the public thinks. Seventy-one percent say they'd oppose air strikes if Congress doesn't back them.

3. Americans are convinced on who's to blame

It seems the case the president needs to make in his prime-time address on Tuesday night isn't whether the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own citizens. The poll indicates Americans are pretty much already convinced.

"We have high confidence that Syria used in indiscriminate fashion chemical weapons that killed thousands of people including over 400 children in direct violation of the international norm against using chemical weapons," Obama said last week.

Most Americans do agree with Obama on that — 28% of those questioned say they're certain Bashar al-Assad's regime is to blame, up 12 percentage points from May. And 54% say it's likely, but not certain, that Syrian government forces used chemical weapons. That means more than eight in 10 are either convinced or close to being convinced that the Syrian government gassed its own people.

Case closed.

4. But that doesn't appear to matter

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Despite more than 80% of those surveyed saying it's likely or certain that the Syrian government was behind the attacks, nearly seven in 10 say that it's not in the U.S.'s national interest to get involved in Syria's civil war. That even includes a majority of Democrats, whose party controls the White House.

As for the end game, more than seven in 10 say that air strikes would not achieve any significant U.S. goals.

5. Hawk vs. dove or Democrat vs. Republican

The CNN survey suggests that Democrats and Republicans don't see eye-to-eye over whether Congress should pass the resolution, with 56% of those who identified themselves as Democrats saying yes, but only 36% of Republicans and 29% of independents feeling the same way.

"Bringing Congress into the equation seems to have added a political dimension to the Syria debate," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. "Once Congress makes up its mind, however, the gap between Democrats and Republicans nearly vanishes."

If Congress does authorize military action, the gap between Democrats and Republicans shrinks to just four points. And if the resolution authorizing military action fails, large numbers in both parties oppose military action.

"It appears that while the debate is still in the hands of Congress, politics will affect Americans' views on Syria," Holland said. "Politics may still stop at the water's edge for most Americans, but Capitol Hill remains a highly partisan environment, even when international affairs are being debated."

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