Obama’s Libyan Intervention Has Lowest Approval of Any Military Op Polled by Gallup in 4 Decades

Terence P. Jeffrey | March 24, 2011 | 9:49am EDT
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President Barack Obama’s intervention in Libya’s civil war has not only failed to win the approval of a majority of the American people, according to a Gallup poll conducted Monday, it also earned the lowest public approval rating of any U.S. military operation polled by Gallup over the past four decades.

In fact, it was the only U.S. military intervention polled by Gallup that received less than majority approval from Americans.

“The 47% of Americans approving of the action against Libya is lower than what Gallup has found when asking about approval of other U.S. military campaigns in the past four decades.”

That compares to the 90 percent approval rating Americans gave President George W. Bush’s October 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the 83 percent approval rating they gave President George H.W. Bush’s January 1993 bombing of military targets in Iraq, the 76 percent approval rating they gave President George W. Bush’s March 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the 71 percent approval rating they gave President Ronald Reagan’s March 1986 bombing of Libya, and the 66 percent approval rating they gave President Bill Clinton’s August 1998 missile strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan, according to the Gallup poll.

Before Obama’s intervention in Libya, the least popular U.S. military intervention polled by Gallup was President Clinton’s 1999 intervention in the Balkan conflict over Kosovo. In a survey conducted April 30 to May 2, 1999, only 51 percent of Americans approved of that military action.

Gallup says it did not conduct polls asking Americans whether they approved or disapproved of the first U.S. war in Iraq in 1991 or of the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1991, which resulted in the ouster of the Panamanian government of Manuel Noriega in less than two weeks. 

However, in response to a somewhat different question, asking people whether they approved of President George H.W. Bush starting the war in Iraq when he did on Jan. 16, 1991, 79 percent told Gallup they did approve of that war.

Also, after the senior President Bush invaded Panama on Dec. 20, 1989, his approval rating soared to 80 percent in a January 1990 Gallup poll, giving him the highest approval rating in that poll of any president since World War II.  “That poll showed Bush with an 80 percent approval rating, higher than that for any other president at the same point in his first term since World War II,” the Washington Post reported on that 1990 Gallup poll. “Only one, John F. Kennedy, came close. Kennedy enjoyed a 77 percent approval rating in January 1962.”

Reporting on its own January 1990 poll, the Post attributed Bush’ s high approval rating to his successful invasion of Panama.

“Nearly eight in 10 of those interviewed -- 79 percent -- said they approved of the job Bush has done as president,” the Post reported.

“The survey suggested that Bush's image was helped by his decision to invade Panama and by the subsequent capture of the Panamanian dictator, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega,” the Post said. “A Washington Post survey conducted in December after an unsuccessful coup attempt against Noriega but before the invasion set Bush's approval rating at 66 percent, down about 10 points from the previous month. The latest Post-ABC poll found that eight in 10 persons interviewed said they supported the president's decision to send U.S. troops to Panama to overthrow Noriega.”

Two years after the senior President Bush scored the highest Gallup approval rating of any president in the post-World War II era, he lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton, winning just 37.5 percent of the popular vote.

Here are the results of Gallup’s polls on the approval or disapproval of U.S. military actions in recent history listed from most-approved to least-approved:

Afghanistan                   Oct. 7, 2001                            90                    5

Iraq                              Jan. 13, 1993                           83                    9

Iraq                              March 20, 2003                       76                    20

Libya                            April 17-18, 1986                    71                    21

Afghanistan/Sudan        Aug. 20, 1998                          66                    19

Somalia                        June 18-21                              65                    23

Haiti                             Sept. 23-25, 1994                    54                    45

Grenada                       Oct. 26-27                               53                    34

Kosovo/The Balkans      April 30-May 2, 1999              51                    45

Libya                            March 21, 2011                       47                    37

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