Middle East Spikes as Major Worry; Little Consensus About How to Act

The American people are vexed and uncertain about what role, if any, the United States should play in the renewed conflicts in the Middle East, according to a new national survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute.

Homeland security and anti-terror policy has spiked as a concern of the American people, with 17 percent of Americans now citing those issues as the most important facing the country. That’s up from 4 percent in June. An additional 5 percent of Americans cite foreign affairs as the most important issue. To put this in context, jobs and economy remain the number one issue on people’s minds.

“The number of respondents who list national security, terrorism, and foreign affairs as their largest concerns going into the November election has quadrupled since June,” said Frank Orlando, instructor of political science at Saint Leo University. “This may advantage candidates who have experience in dealing with foreign policy and security. Still, voters remain divided over what steps the government should take around the world.”

Orlando noted that “President Obama appears to be hewing closely to public opinion by promising that the U.S. will not put boots on the ground to stop the ISIS threat. As far as when we should intervene, it’s clear that the closer the threat hits home, the more support for intervention exists, as we would expect. After the bombings in the Gaza Strip over the summer, a majority of Americans still favor action if Israel is attacked,” Orlando noted.

And yet, it is also true that the survey shows a large minority of 42 percent say that the Middle East needs to solve its own problems.

The survey approached the topic by asking respondents several detailed questions. Questions and answers are excerpted below. With the first question about the Middle East, the survey captured responses according to the political affiliations of the respondents–Republicans (shown as R), Democrats (D), and independents (I)–in addition to the overall views of the entire response base.

The introductory question asked:

In recent months conflicts have flared up in the Middle East in places including Iraq, Syria, Israel, and the Gaza Strip. Some people think the United States has a responsibility to intervene in the Middle East to protect civilians or support American interests. Other people think the Middle East needs to solve its own problems and the United States should stay out of it. Which of the following statements comes closest to your view?

% All respondents answering R I D
47 The United States has a responsibility to intervene in the Middle East to protect civilians or support American interests. 57 45 43
42 The Middle East needs to solve its own problems and the United States should stay out. 36 45 44
11 Don’t know / not sure 7 10 13


Support for intervention is strongest if American citizens are directly in harm’s way, with 86 percent willing to support intervention in the event American citizens are being held prisoner or have been murdered. Support falls to 54 percent if the purpose is to support moderate groups that might be friendly toward the U.S.

The survey asked:

Under what circumstances might you support United States military intervention in the Middle East? Please indicate if you would strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose United States military intervention under the following circumstances. If you aren’t sure or don’t know enough about the situation to have an opinion, just indicate so.

Scenarios presented Strongly support intervention Somewhat support intervention Somewhat oppose intervention Strongly oppose intervention Don’t know/not sure
Israel is invaded or attacked 33 28 18 11 10
Members of an ethnic or religious minority in one country are being threatened with genocide 30 42 12 8 8
To support moderate groups that might be more friendly to the U.S. 12 43 24 9 13
If a regime used chemical or biological weapons against its own civilians 34 38 12 9 7
If American civilians are being held as prisoners or hostages 56 30 6 2 5
If American civilians have been murdered 57 29 6 3 5


Results show there is only limited support for a “boots on the ground” approach to the rapidly changing situation.

The survey asked:

Intervention can take different forms. If the United States were to intervene in the Middle East in the coming months, what forms of intervention could you support? Indicate all forms of intervention you could support; you may select more than one option.

65% Provide humanitarian supplies
60% Economic sanctions
55% Use of U.S. air strikes
47% Provide military training and advisors
47% Use of U.S. special forces for covert missions lasting less than 24 hours
38% Provide military arms and equipment
23% Deploy U.S. troops or boots on the ground
5% No intervention at all – none of the above
7% Don’t know / not sure


About the Saint Leo University Polling Institute/Methodology

This Saint Leo University nationwide poll of 1,013 adults including–748 likely voters–was conducted between September 29 and October 6, 2014. The margin of error on questions pertaining to national policies and issues is approximately 4.5 percent +/- with a 95 percent confidence level. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. Sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive–usually 50 cents deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account–for their participation.

Media Contacts: Kim Payne, staff writer and media coordinator, at kim.payne@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-7233/(717) 798-1508 or Jo-Ann Johnston, academic communications manager, at jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8237/(352) 467-0843.