Polling Shows Democrats’ Opinion on Military Action Not Driven by President’s Party

Brian Beutler at the New Republic reports on a Washington Post poll about Donald Trump’s recent airstrike on a Syrian air base in response to last week’s deadly sarin attack, and notes something interesting:

When President Obama was contemplating missile strikes in Syria four years ago, in the aftermath of a deadly chemical weapons attack, very few people thought it was a good idea. Just 38 percent of Democrats and a bare 22 percent of Republicans supported the idea.
Today, most Democrats are similarly apprehensive. Only 37 percent back President Trump’s weekend bombing campaign. Republicans, by contrast, have had a near-total change of heart. The same Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that 86 percent of Republicans support the strikes, suggesting that a huge number of them based their decision on the proxy of who happened to be president at the time.

Beutler focuses on the difference between Democrats and Republicans in his piece, and focuses his analysis on how the results disprove the lazy “Both Sides” analysis of American politics that is so popular in the national political media. I was struck by how the results disprove a different lazy bit of political analysis: the claim that Democrats changed their foreign policy views, refusing to criticize President Obama for action that drew protest under President Bush.

The evidence for this claim was always weak, always based on some “You just know they woulda…” language. You just know that Democrats would have been widely critical of George Bush if he’d had a drone program, you just know that Democrats would have criticized George Bush if he’d surged troops into Afghanistan, etc. The problem being, the claim of inconsistency is either entirely speculative (there were few drone strikes under George Bush because the technology was not yet mature), or refuted by the facts (Democrats broadly supported George Bush’s decision to go into Afghanistan in 2001, supported it throughout Bush’s presidency) or both (Democrats came to oppose both drone strikes and the Afghan War during Obama’s presidency).

And here, in today’s poll, we have as close to a valid laboratory experiment as you are likely to find in politics. The situations faced by Obama and Trump are nearly identical, and the level of support from Democrats is nearly identical. As people who were paying attention, and not straining to discern Democratic hypocrisy could have predicted, Democratic support has not budged.



  1. Oh, good catch!

    It’s always interesting to me when cynical pronouncements about human nature/the nature of a particular group of humans fall down in the face of evidence. Because some people will cling to it regardless–their cynicism is a faith, and a naïve one.


    • I find that “Both Sides Are the Same” types like Greenwald are bigger suckers for confirmation bias than either partisan Democrats or partisan Republicans. At least partisans can recognize on the level of theory that they could be falling for a false claim because it fits their narrative. People like Greeneald, or libertarians, or D.C. Centrists, think that having a claim lfit with their preferred narrative about the parties is proof against confirmation bias.


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