President Obama reaches new low on Iraq

As the White House weighs its options in Iraq, a new Washington Post poll shows that public confidence in President Obama is slipping. (Pamela Kirkland/The Washington Post)

President Obama receives his worst marks yet for handling the situation in Iraq, with 52 percent disapproving and strong negative sentiment now outpacing strong approval by 2 to 1 (34 to 17 percent) in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Asked whether the U.S. should launch air strikes against Sunni insurgents, 45 percent support and 46 percent oppose that idea. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans support air strikes, compared with 44 percent among Democrats and 41 percent of independents. The gap between men and women is just as large and extends across party lines. Men support air strikes by a 54 to 40 percent margin, while women oppose them by 52 to 38 percent.

Nearly two-thirds of the public, however, opposes sending U.S. ground forces to combat insurgents, including at least six in 10 Democrats, Republicans and independents. No demographic or political group in the poll expresses majority support for deploying ground troops, while opposition surges to above 70 percent among those over age 50 and post-graduates.

Radical Sunni Muslims seized Iraq's main border crossing with Jordan Sunday, a key conquest by forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Obama has ruled out sending U.S. troops into battle, but announced last Thursday that up to 300 U.S. Special Operations troops would be sent to advise Iraqi security forces and assess the situation.  "American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again," he said, adding: "This is something that is going to have to be solved by Iraqis." Obama has repeatedly acknowledged the public is weary from over a decade of costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For the first time in Post-ABC polls disapproval of Obama for handling Iraq outpaces approval, 52 to 42 percent. His ratings tilted positive the last time Iraq approval was asked in September 2010 - 49 percent approving and 45 percent disapproving, with nearly one-third of Republicans giving him positive marks (31 percent). But Republican support has plummeted to 13 percent in the new poll while independents have also shifted negatively, with the share approving of his Iraq efforts dipping from 49 to 40 percent. Democrats have been more consistent in approval of Obama, though their level of support fails to match Republicans' opposition.

Obama has struggled to reap credit from the public for ending the Iraq war even as nearly eight in 10 Americans - and a majority of Republicans - supported his 2011 announcement that all U.S. forces would leave the country that year.  The current conflict may prove just as difficult to navigate in the court of public opinion, with few popular options on the table to help Iraq avoid being subsumed by the ISIS surge.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted June 18-22 among a random national sample of 1,009 adults reached on conventional and cellular phones. The margin of sampling error for overall results is 3.5 percentage points. Click here for interactive poll results with breakdowns by group.

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