The following is based on new findings from two consecutive University of Maryland Critical Issues Polls, conducted September 3-20, and October 4-10. The full results can be found here, and the methodology and questionnaire here.
1From the day President Trump announced his decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria, which we started measuring on October 7, support for his move was low, with only 27% of respondents saying they supported it (including fewer than half of Republicans). Within two days, as criticism mounted against the decision, including by GOP Senators such as Lindsey Graham, support for the decision declined further to 21%, and opposition increased from 42% to 46%. At the same time, it is notable that, overall, fewer than half of respondents opposed the move outright by the time we closed the poll on October 10, which was prior to the overwhelming bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives to oppose the Syria withdrawal.
2When a major Saudi oil facility was attacked on September 14, our large sample of over 3,000 respondents was initially split down the middle. Before the attack, the administration’s approval of Iran policy stood at 44%. In the days after the attack, approval dropped to 39%, and disapproval went from 51% to 57%.
3 Yet, despite mounting pressure on the Trump administration — including from Republicans — to respond to the attack, there was little change in the overwhelming public opposition to military action. Before the oil fields attack, 76% of respondents said that U.S. goals vis-à-vis Iran did not warrant U.S. military action; after the attack, 75% said the same.
4In a follow-up poll, October 4-10, the public opposition to military action against Iran was further evident. We asked if the U.S. should consider military action if sufficient evidence emerged that Iran was behind the attack on the Saudi oil fields. Two-thirds said the U.S. should not consider a military response, including 53% of Republicans.
5Fewer than one-quarter of respondents, 22% (including 31% of Republicans), point to the nature of the Iranian regime as the main factor behind escalation in the Gulf, and only 5% blame the Yemen war. A majority, including a majority of Republicans, blame actions by the Trump administration: either the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (35%) or on the imposition of new sanctions on Tehran (34%). Among Republicans, 40% blame the imposition of new Iran sanctions, while 20% blame the withdrawal from the nuclear deal.
6In the October poll, we probed multiple aspects of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and the Taliban. In one question, we probed the public preference for U.S. troop levels there. About one-third, 34%, said they supported current troop levels, 23% preferred reducing troop level, and 22% preferred total withdrawal by the end of the year. Only 3% said they supported an increase. Unlike on many other questions, there was only small variation across the party divide.
Rachel Slattery created graphs for this post.
President López Obrador's extension of the term of Supreme Court chief Arturo Zaldívar is part of his strong effort to recentralize power in the Mexican presidency and hollow out the independence and power of other Mexican institutions. His other moves to bend the justice system to his will include a reform that lowered the salary of judges but did not improve the quality of prosecutors and his unwillingness to allow an independent selection of the attorney general, with López Obrador himself retaining the power of appointment. His latest move with the two-year extension of Zaldívar’s term is especially worrisome. Zaldívar is also the president of the powerful Federal Judiciary Council. The council appoints and dismisses judges, sets career advancement rules and disciplines judges. Zaldívar will be setting the council’s and, thus, the whole judiciary’s, agenda and priorities for two years. This allows López Obrador to influence how courts will rule in cases regarding the executive branch, what cases they take up and the legality of new policies. These moves are taking place when the effectiveness of the judiciary in Mexico remains limited and deeply concerning. The attorney general’s office has proven weak, unwilling to take up key cases such as against the suspects in the brazen attack on Mexico City’s security minister, Omar García Harfuch—an event that symbolized the impunity with which Mexican criminal groups operate. Mexico’s justice system showed itself equally meek and disappointing in inadequately investigating the alleged complicity of former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos and dismissing the case, potentially the most significant case of corruption and criminal collusion charges against a high-ranking Mexican official in two decades. A decade and a half after Mexico initiated its justice system reforms, 95 percent of federal cases still go unpunished. President López Obrador has scored some points, but the already precariously weak rule of law in Mexico, and thus the Mexican people, will suffer.