President Obama's high-stakes sales pitch on Syria this week is complicated by two powerful forces of public opinion: most Americans don't think there is a vital U.S. national security interest at stake, and don't believe military strikes will achieve any significant goal for the United States.
The skepticism drives the deep opposition to military strikes seen in a new CNN/ORC poll released Monday: 59% of Americans oppose a congressional resolution authorizing military action in Syria. And if Congress fails to pass such a resolution, 71% of Americans say they would oppose the president launching strikes anyway.
President Obama is taking the lead this week trying to sway public opinion, knowing a boost in the polls would change what at the moment is an extraordinarily difficult vote count in Congress. Six television interviews Monday and a nationally televised address Tuesday are the big pieces of the president's plan.
In those appearances, it is clear the biggest challenge is the profound underlying skepticism about another U.S. military commitment in the Middle East.
In our new poll, 72% of Americans say strikes would not achieve significant goals for the United States, and 69% say use of force in Syria is not in the U.S. national interest.
A deeper look shows how the president's biggest problem is with Republicans and self-described independents, meaning he is trying to persuade people who are already inclined to oppose the president on many or most issues.
For example, six in 10 Democrats say strikes would not achieve any significant goals for the United States. But 74% of independents believe that, and 83% of Republicans.
And while 56% of the president's fellow Democrats don't see intervening in Syria as being in the U.S.'s national interest, that number spikes to 76% among independents and 71% of Republicans.
So the president is not only losing the political "right" in this debate, the skepticism is also quite deep in the middle of the political spectrum.
In a nutshell, it is proving difficult for the president to win support, post-Iraq war especially, if people think the challenge isn't a top U.S. security challenge, and on top of that believe what the president is planning won't change things for the better and could become more of a long-term mess.