Poll: Conditional support for Libya no-fly zone

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 14, 2011; 2:47 PM

Most Americans say they support U.S. participation in a no-fly zone over Libya as a way to neutralize Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi's air force, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

But support slips under 50 percent when it comes to more unilateral U.S. action, as Democrats and independents peel away. And under either scenario, about a quarter of all no-fly advocates turn into opponents when the specifics of the military action are detailed.

The results come at a time of widespread public pessimism about the long-term effect of the broader unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. Nearly six in 10 Americans see the political turbulence as doing lasting damage to U.S. political and economic interests in the region. Almost half see it as hurting the country's ability to fight terrorist groups there.

When it comes to Libya, 56 percent of those polled are supportive of the United States' joining a new no-fly arrangement to prevent government air strikes on rebel groups. Support is slimmer (49 percent) for more independent U.S. action: using U.S. aircraft to create the no-fly zone.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is in Paris Monday for G-8 talks about the situation in Libya.

In the poll, Republican support is an identical 61 percent whether the question is U.S. participation in a no-fly zone, or U.S. creation of one. While majorities of Democrats (57 percent) and independents (53 percent) favor American participation, in both groups' support slumps when other countries' backing is less clear.

Most no-fly supporters remain behind such a move when the military action is explained - the bombing of anti-aircraft positions and continuous air patrol - but about a quarter of the advocates switch sides.

Forty-five percent say they approve of President Obama's handling of the situation in Libya, and 34 percent say they disapprove. A large 21 percent say they have no opinion on the matter. Those undecideds shift to disapproval when it comes to the president's handling of the political unrest in the region more broadly. On that front, 45 percent approve, and 44 percent disapprove.

The telephone poll was conducted March 10 to 13, among a random national sample of 1,005 adults. Results from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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