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Poll: Americans back airstrikes, but oppose use of U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria

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Story highlights

  • Fewer than four in 10 Americans favor sending U.S. ground troops in fight ISIS
  • 73% percent of Americans back the joint U.S. and ally airstrikes in Iraq, Syria
  • House Speaker John Boehner says it may eventually take U.S. troops to defeat ISIS
Americans are steadfastly opposed to sending U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but an overwhelming number of people continue to support the U.S.-led airstrikes against the terrorist group, a new CNN/ORC International poll shows.
While fewer than four in 10 Americans favor sending U.S. ground troops into a combat situation against ISIS, there is a widespread belief that such an action is inevitable, according to the poll.
Only 24% of Americans do not think the United States will send combat troops to battle ISIS, while 36% say it is likely and another 39% say it is somewhat likely. Count House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as one of those people.
Boehner said Sunday it may take U.S. boots on the ground to defeat ISIS, as he questioned President Barack Obama's plan -- which includes airstrikes, training and equipping the Iraqi Army and moderate Syrian rebels -- to defeat the terrorist network.
"Listen, the President doesn't want to do that," Boehner said in an interview on ABC's "This Week." "If I were the President, I probably wouldn't have talked about what I wouldn't do. And maybe, maybe we can get enough of these forces trained and get them on the battlefield, but somebody's boots have to be there."
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Boehner later added that the United States might have "no choice" but to put U.S. soldiers on the ground. "These are barbarians," Boehner said of ISIS in the ABC interview. "They intend to kill us, and if we don't destroy them first, we're going to pay the price."
But Obama, in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS, continued to emphasize that U.S. combat troops will not be put on the ground, saying that the situation in the region is not a military problem, rather a political problem that leaders of those countries -- specifically Iraq -- need to address.
"This is not America against ISIL," Obama said in the interview that aired on '60 Minutes.'" This is America leading the international community to assist a country with whom we have a security partnership with, to make sure that they -- are able to take care of their business."
Even though Obama has said he will not place combat troops in the region, the United States does have military advisers on the ground training and helping the Iraqi army strategically as it battle ISIS.
The formation of the international coalition of countries working with the United States to destroy ISIS is what appears to be giving Obama a boost of support from the American public for military action against ISIS. Seventy-three percent of Americans back the joint U.S. and ally airstrikes, but support drops to 50% if the mission had been undertaken solely by the United States.
Americans have a weary eye about one piece of the plan to defeat ISIS: arming the moderate Syrian rebels. While Congress approved legislation before it left for the campaign trail to allow for the arming and training of the rebels, only 42% of Americans favor this action, and 54% oppose it.
Still, there is an undeniable belief among Americans that ISIS poses some level of threat to the United States, with 45% describing it as "very serious," 23% saying it is "fairly serious" and 23% noting that it is "somewhat serious."
Since the President addressed the nation on September 10 to outline his plan to defeat ISIS, Americans appear more confident in his ability to address the situation. A CNN/ORC poll conducted before his speech showed that 37% of Americans approved of how he was handling ISIS, but this number has now increased to 45%. Overall, 46% of Americans approve of how he is handling the general topic of terrorism, up five points from the CNN/ORC poll conducted earlier this month.
Overall, the President's approval rating remains constant from the previous CNN/ORC poll. Earlier this month, 43% of Americans approved of how he was handling his job, while the new CNN/ORC poll shows that it ticked up one point to 44%.
Keating Holland, CNN's polling director, notes that only 40% of Americans believe the United States is at war with ISIS, which "may explain why ... his job rating doesn't reflect a 'rally effect' that previous presidents have experienced during wartime."
In terms of the general mood of the country, 50% of Americans say things are going well, while 49% say it is going badly.
On the five major general themes, Obama rates under 50%: terrorism, 46%; ISIS, 45%; foreign affairs, 42%; economy, 42%; health care 42% -- more signs that Obama could be more hurtful than helpful to vulnerable Democrats seeking reelection in November.
The poll was conducted for CNN by ORC International, which interviewed 1,055 adult Americans, by telephone between September 25 and September 28. The sampling error is +/-3 percentage points.