Kinetic Opinions: Partisan Split over Libya Engagement Grows Sharply After Obama’s Address

In Pew’s first poll on Libya taken after President Obama’s primetime speech to the American public they found little overall change in support for the conflict but massive partisan movement:

Over just the past week, Republican opposition to the air strikes has grown substantially – 41% now say it was the wrong decision, up from 29% a week ago.

By contrast, Democratic support for the airstrikes has increased – 59% now say it was the right decision, up from 49% last week. As a result, while Republicans were at least as supportive of the decision to take military action in Libya a week ago, there is now a substantial divide along partisan lines.

Given the short span of time and how relatively stable opinion was among independents, I can only assume the huge swings among Democrats and Republicans aren’t related to changing conditions in Libya, but mostly driven by pure political tribalism.

It is understandable that a Democratic President after a direct appeal could convince a fair number of self-identified Democrats to at least temporarily give him the benefit of the doubt on an issue, but I’m amazed it works so well on such a cornerstone issue to Democrats like unnecessary war. It’s equally striking that it happened to also produce a near-equal negative reaction from Republicans, despite the President going forward with the military option prominent Republicans were asking for.

This tribalistic response on both sides shows just how hard reaching any bipartisan compromise is going to be in Washington. If the Republican base will so rapidly turn against a military conflict that top Republicans wanted because “Obama did it,” it seems anything the president agrees to will almost instantly become tarnished in the minds of Republicans. No wonder Republican presidential hopefuls, like Newt Gingrich, are willing to take a half-dozen different positions on Libya, as long as, at that moment, it is different from Obama’s.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at