2 out of 3 Americans support U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, Syria

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U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the recent airstrikes against ISIS on the South Lawn of the White House on Sept. 23, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the recent airstrikes against ISIS on the South Lawn of the White House on Sept. 23, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Nearly 2 out of 3 Americans back U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria to combat the threat from Islamic extremists, yet half also think there’s a high risk of a future terrorist attack on American soil, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

Americans surveyed were split on whether they approve of the way President Barack Obama is generally handling the threat from the Islamic State group and other terrorists, with about half approving and about half disapproving of his actions.

And despite more than a decade of costly war, about a third favor going beyond airstrikes and putting American military boots on the ground in Iraq or Syria.

Obama says he has no plans to send ground troops to Iraq or Syria. A little more than a third say they are opposed to sending them and about 1 in 4 say they neither favor nor oppose it.

“He’s got to do something,” said Keith Fehser, 55, who thinks the U.S. military action taken so far in Iraq and Syria has been “about the right” response. “This is the easiest way to do it.”

Fehser, a commodities trader from suburban Chicago, says Americans need to see terrorism as an extremely important issue, yet they don’t.

“I just think it’s only going to get worse,” he said. “Even though the government tries its best to keep on top of it, it’s just lunacy out there with what can be done by just small groups of people.”

He said most people he talks with don’t care much about the U.S. airstrikes. “It’s a long way away. As long as we’re not letting our own people get killed, I don’t think they care that much,” he said, adding that he would be “very disgusted” if American combat troops were sent back to the region.

Fifty-three percent say they think there’s a high risk of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, though just 20 percent call it an “extremely high risk.” An additional 32 percent say the nation is at moderate risk of a terrorist attack, and 12 percent say it faces a low risk of terror attacks.

The poll has not asked that specific question in the past. However, the finding tracks with Pew Research Center data from July indicating that concern had ebbed somewhat since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

This summer, the Pew survey said 59 percent of Americans were “very” or “somewhat worried” that there would soon be another terrorist attack in the United States. That’s lower than the 73 percent that Pew found were concerned, following 9/11, that another attack was imminent and about the same as the 58 percent who were worried about another attack after the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Despite the concern, only a third are closely following news of U.S. airstrikes.

Douglas Dowden, 49, who lives in central California, said he thinks the threat from the Islamic State group is overblown. He doesn’t support Obama’s decision to launch airstrikes.

“How many terror threat attacks happen in countries like, say, Spain, Italy, the U.S.? It’s not that often. I have more fear of what some whack job locally is going to do. That’s more of a concern to me than some potential threat from some extremist group,” Dowden said.

Dowden is among the 37 percent surveyed who said they were following news about the airstrikes “somewhat closely.” About 32 percent of those surveyed are paying close attention to the military action, and 30 percent say they’re barely monitoring the U.S. military airstrikes.

Asked whether they favored, opposed or neither favored nor opposed the airstrikes, 65 percent said they favored the strikes in Syria, 64 percent in Iraq.

“I’m really not following it. There is so much terrible news and I’d rather follow the domestic news than the foreign news. But I still am interested in what’s going on,” said Betty Masket, a 91-year-old retired government health science administrator from Chevy Chase, Maryland. “I really feel sorry for Obama. I think he’s doing the best he can.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Sept. 25-29 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,845 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents. Respondents were selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were given free access.