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Public Opinion and Military Intervention Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya

Public Opinion and Military Intervention Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya

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Public Opinion and Military Intervention Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya
Public Opinion and Military Intervention Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya

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The Political Quarterly, Vol. 84, No.

1, January–March 2013

Public Opinion and Military Intervention: Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya

BRITAIN has participated in several military interventions of varying duration, extent and political controversy in recent years. During Tony Blair’s time in office, the armed forces were involved in operations in Sierra Leone, Bosnia and Kosovo prior to 9/11 and in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the international response to terrorism post-9/11. Britain still has extensive military forces stationed in Afghanistan, due to withdraw from 2014 onwards, and there has been a growing wariness in domestic opinion as casualties have steadily risen since operations were stepped up in 2006. Britain’s military operations in Iraq formally ended in April 2009, but the issue was deeply controversial within domestic politics before and after the invasion in 2003, becoming one of the defining issues of Blair’s premiership before he stepped down in 2007. Indeed, the controversy surrounding the invasion and occupation of Iraq, as well as Britain’s role in multinational operations in Afghanistan since 2001, has arguably led to a diffuse sense of public ‘fatigue’ with overseas military interventions, accentuated by widespread economic hardship and the emergence of ‘austerity politics’. Polling undertaken on the war in Afghanistan in recent years consistently shows only a very small minority in favour of troops remaining in Afghanistan, with large majorities wanting troops returned to Britain either immediately or soon.1 An ITV News/ComRes poll carried out in September–October 2011 found that 57

per cent agreed that troops should be withdrawn immediately, with 26 per cent disagreeing. Moreover, 71 per cent agreed that the war was unwinnable, with just 12 per cent dissenting from this view.2 In a period of deficit reduction, cuts and public-sector retrenchment, it might be expected that the public are even less willing for Britain’s forces to be committed abroad, with the expenditure that such costly operations necessarily entail. In this context, this article assesses in detail public attitudes towards military action in Libya, the Coalition government’s first major foreign policy test. This article assesses the public mood in three areas of analysis. First, it examines attitudes in a comparative perspective, assessing views across NATO member countries, including those that did and did not play a direct military role. Second, it examines which groups in the British population were more likely to support or oppose involvement in Libya, providing a comparison with attitudes towards the military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Third, it assesses how the popular mood changed over time, in respect of three indicators: support for the intervention in principle; evaluations of how military action progressed; and Cameron’s perceived handling of the issue. Before looking at public opinion, the article provides an overview of the Coalition government’s foreign policy agenda and the wider circumstances surrounding the military intervention in Libya.

© The Author 2013. The Political Quarterly © The Political Quarterly Publishing Co. Ltd. 2013 Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA

a firmer approach to the UK–US special relationship and a more balanced and inclusive decisionmaking process in the foreign policy arena.3 was still expected to show broad continuity with aspects of New Labour’s foreign policy approach. including a greater role for the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. as evidenced in the Coalition Agreement.5 Other changes. the UN authorised a mandate for military action in the form of Resolution 1973. Beech concludes that. grappling with Britain’s role in Afghanistan. while the Liberal Democrats had been the leading political opponents of the invasion of Iraq.4 In essence. While incumbent leaders were forced from office in both Tunisia and Egypt. in Libya the military and security forces of Colonel Gaddafi made serious efforts to quell the armed uprising—which began in February 2011—with Gaddafi adamant that he would crush the opposition and remain in power.The Coalition government and foreign policy The Conservative party in opposition. 84. the Coalition’s National Security Strategy. The Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition that took office in May 2010 120 BEN CLEMENTS Military intervention in Libya Events intruded in late 2010 and early 2011 in the form of a series of uprisings against repressive regimes and their autocratic leaders in North African and Middle Eastern countries. Further differentiating themselves from New Labour. David Cameron and Liam Fox (then Defence Secretary). developed their thinking on foreign policy in significant ways. in foreign conflicts. although the new government marked out a difference from the previous government in relation to ‘liberal interventionism’. This can be understood as a clear foreign policy discontinuity with previous Conservative leaderships since Margaret Thatcher. 1 © The Author 2013.6 Under New Labour. emphasised that they did not intend to intervene. be given greater prominence than warwar’. Vol. under David Cameron’s leadership and with William Hague as Shadow Foreign Secretary. a phenomenon collectively labelled the ‘Arab Spring’. promoted in major speeches and policy documents. ‘jaw-jaw would. ‘Blair-style’. there had been a quite distinctive step change in the Conservative party’s global view. both parties had supported the war in Afghanistan under the aegis of the broader international fight against terrorism. The Political Quarterly © The Political Quarterly Publishing Co. 2013 . the French president. were The Political Quarterly. Ltd. shortly after the 2010 general election. No. the new government might take a different approach from Blair’s. it seemed. and in contrast to New Labour’s foreign policy and military engagements. focused on preventing rather than on intervening in conflict. partly as a necessary response to the foreign policy priorities and major overseas actions—both perceived failures and successes—of the New Labour governments.7 Moreover. Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy. and quite an unConservative one at that. in particular the divisive invasion and occupation of Iraq. published in October 2010.8 Reflecting on the politically controversial military interventions undertaken when Tony Blair was Prime Minister. The renewed thinking on policies and priorities was encapsulated in the designation of their beliefs as ‘liberal conservatism’. included a greater emphasis on economic and commercial objectives in the promotion of the national interest. based on this intellectual evolution while in opposition. Cameron argued that British foreign policy needed to show more ‘patience’ and ‘humility’ in future. and appeared to herald the end of liberal interventionism so that if a Kosovo-type situation arose. In the context of growing calls for some form of intervention. including strengthened bilateral ties with emerging economies.

Le Monde and The International Herald Tribune setting out the aims of international community for the Libyan intervention.11 Cameron insisted that action in Libya was ‘necessary. but also “hard-headed” … rooted in national interests. there were not the major divisions between EU member states that had occurred so visibly over Iraq. in the high-stakes parliamentary vote in March 2003. claimed that the Labour party’s stance on the issue should be informed. 1 . as well as the Labour party being divided internally—there was a broad domestic consensus underpinning Britain’s role in Libya. Justifying the rationale for British participation. While Germany abstained in the UN vote alongside Russia and China. Cameron made clear to the public that involvement in Libya was ‘not merely an outbreak of do-goodery. as some countries specifically desired. In April. 2013 The Political Quarterly. Vol. Douglas Alexander. When the issue was put to the vote in the House of Commons on 22 March 2011. It also raised familiar issues about Britain’s relation with the US and ‘going the UN route’ to gain broad international legitimacy. The various aspects in which the Libyan intervention is similar to or different from previous episodes of military intervention—its explicit UN backing and widespread regional and AND PUBLIC OPINION MILITARY INTERVENTION 121 © The Author 2013. and was criticised by other countries for doing so. the crisis in Libya provided the Coalition government with its first major foreign policy test and the difficult and politically sensitive choice of whether to push for—and commit British forces to—military action.14 The successful NATO-led campaign in Libya lasted for around seven months before it was officially declared that action would end on 31 October 2011. 557 MPs endorsed the government motion. The Libyan leader was finally captured and killed in October 2011.10 The intervention was broadly underpinned by an international consensus of sorts: NATO-led multinational action had the support of regional bodies.13 Both the highly controversial Iraq invasion and the longstanding—and increasingly unpopular— involvement of British forces in Afghanistan coloured political and media debate over the merits or otherwise of getting involved in action in the case of Libya. The Political Quarterly © The Political Quarterly Publishing Co. In stark contrast to the partisan alignments on the Iraq issue—where the Liberal Democrats and other smaller parties were strongly opposed to the invasion in 2003. what was particularly notable was the size of the rebellion by backbench Labour MPs on an amendment opposing the government’s stance: they numbered 139 in total. by the ‘long shadow’ cast by Iraq. and a succession of countries recognising the National Transitional Council as the legitimate national authority. after rebels had moved on and attacked the last strongholds of the Gaddafi regime. Ltd. Cameron and Sarkozy published a joint letter in The Times. 84. which served to emphasise the wider international backing for the action undertaken. and instead authorised ‘all necessary measures’. together with US President Barack Obama. yet not paralysed. the government motion passed by 412 votes to 149. legal and right’. with widespread Conservative backing.9 The UN resolution gave backing for air strikes to protect civilians from attacks by Gaddafi’s forces. Key developments in this period included the rebels entering and assuming control of Tripoli in August. and limited in scope’. such as the Arab League. versus relying on issue-specific coalitions of the willing. with Gaddafi fleeing.prime movers behind the Security Council resolution which went further than imposing a ‘no-fly zone’. with just thirteen against (including eleven Labour members)—a huge majority of 544.12 The Shadow Foreign Secretary. with action commencing on 19 March. Despite the government’s victory. No. On the Iraq issue. Recurrent Eurozone crises aside.

For example. public opinion in Germany was not the most likely to be opposed to action—the percentage found here was 39. support is lowest in Italy. one conducted at the turn of March–April 2011 (Financial Times/Harris) and the other in late April (Reuters/Ipsos MORI). along with the US. they produce a consistent finding in relation to the country most likely (France) and least likely (Italy) to support military action. and the fact it offered less potential for large-scale casualties—make it pertinent to examine public opinion on this issue. Looking at the first poll. compared with 49 per cent in Italy. Results are shown for two separate opinion polls. Question: ‘To what extent do you support or oppose the current military intervention in Libya?’ Question: ‘Do you support or oppose the UK and allied military action in Libya?’ 122 BEN CLEMENTS © The Author 2013. Britain and France were fully involved in the airstrikes against Gaddafi’s regime. Allowing for the difference in response options in the two polls. in which six countries were surveyed. March-April 2011 Support (%) US Britain France Germany Italy Spain 32 37 40 34 29 37 Neither (%) 31 28 30 27 21 29 Oppose (%) 37 36 31 39 49 34 Reuters/Ipsos MORI. considering the prominent role played on the international stage by Cameron and Sarkozy and their countries’ subsequent contribution to the military operations. Britain and Spain (37 per cent or above). Italy and Spain limited their role to reconnaissance missions. 84. and Germany was not involved militarily. support is noticeably highest in France (at 63 per cent) compared to Britain (50 per cent) and the US (55 per cent). was there greater support in Britain and France than in other European countries? Table 1 presents a comparison of overall levels of public support for several NATO member countries. although the first poll also included a neutral option for survey respondents (‘neither’). Again.international support. In the second poll (not including Germany and Spain). 1 . Public opinion across countries Libya was a multinational effort comprising NATO members and contributions made by various other countries (such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates). No. avoiding major ground operations. support was highest in France. and lowest in Italy and the US. Interestingly. We can use available crossnational polling data to see whether there were clear differences in levels of support across countries. its restricted military involvement. its clearer and more urgent humanitarian rationale. where there was also the lowest proportion of neutral opinion (at 21 per cent). The Political Quarterly © The Political Quarterly Publishing Co. several weeks into military action. In terms of NATO’s European members represented in Table 1. April 2011 Support (%) 55 50 63 – 40 – Oppose (%) 45 49 37 – 60 – Note: Samples based on adults aged 16–64. at 40 per cent. Both ask about support or opposition for military action. Vol. Table 1: Cross-national public opinion towards military action in Libya Financial Times/Harris. 2013 The Political Quarterly. Ltd. in the context of their government’s conspicuous abstention in the UN vote. with a clear majority opposed (60 per cent).

Table 2 shows the proportion of respondents in each country that supported. and the British and French deployed these from early June. This is evident. Table 2 shows that there was generally higher public support for extending military involvement in different ways in those European countries playing a fuller military role in the Libyan intervention—Britain and France— than in Germany.The Financial Times/Harris poll also gauged respondents’ views on possible extensions of NATO’s military action (shown in Table 2). Italy and Spain. 84. 2013 The Political Quarterly. Note: Country samples based on adults aged 16–64. The most popular action across countries was regime change—something that was eventually to be realised by the rebels and the external forces—though there was little enthusiasm for the deployment of ground troops and even less for the bombing of non-military targets. Vol. 1 . There was stronger support for the use of attack helicopters in the US. in relation to the potential use of ground troops and the deployment of attack helicopters. Is there any association between the extent of European countries’ involvement in the Libyan intervention and public support for military action? Table 1 shows that support for military action was somewhat higher in Britain and France compared to Spain and Italy in the Financial Times poll and considerably higher than in Italy in the Reuters poll. Overall. we can assess the basis of support and opposition by examining attitudes on a cross-sectional Table 2: Cross-national public opinion towards extending NATO’s involvement in Libya US (%) Britain (%) France (%) 11 24 65 60 28 12 20 28 51 35 35 31 Germany (%) 7 16 77 57 30 14 11 22 67 30 30 40 Italy (%) 6 11 83 56 20 24 12 19 70 22 21 58 Spain (%) 8 23 69 50 30 20 19 31 51 23 32 45 Bombing of non-military targets Support 15 19 Neither 30 28 Oppose 54 53 A regime change Support 45 49 Neither 39 37 Oppose 16 14 Deployment of ground troops Support 17 23 Neither 27 29 Oppose 56 48 Use of attack helicopters Support 39 37 Neither 35 39 Oppose 26 24 Source: Financial Times/Harris. There was less support for this option in Germany. opposed or took a neutral position on different types of military action. Ltd. The Political Quarterly © The Political Quarterly Publishing Co. Italy and Spain. such as regime change. 25–31 May 2011. No. Public opinion within Britain As well as placing opinion in Britain in a comparative context. the latter option having obvious resonance with civilian casualties and ‘collateral damage’. for example. These ranged from operational changes—including deploying attack helicopters—through to more far-reaching objectives. Britain and France. Question: ‘Do you support or oppose an extension of NATO’s military intervention in Libya to include the following?’ PUBLIC OPINION AND MILITARY INTERVENTION 123 © The Author 2013.

In terms of the overall distribution of opinion on this question. Based upon figures from the British Election Study’s Continuous Monitoring Survey (CMS). disapprove. Disapprove. partisanship and newspaper readership. 28 per cent approved of the action. within each instance of military conflict. perhaps influenced by the ‘shadow’ of the Iraq conflict and Britain’s on-going operations in Afghanistan (over 350 British military personnel had lost their lives by the end of February 2011. to the figure for ‘all’. Don’t know. classified by sex. which has undertaken monthly cross-sectional surveys of the population since 2004. or strongly disapprove of Britain’s involvement in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.basis. Afghanistan—February to December 2010. Approve. one difference to note is that the question asking about Libya included a neutral response option (‘neither approve nor disapprove’). education. Previous CMS surveys have carried questions asking about approval or disapproval for these three different interventions. representing all respondents in the pooled sample for each question. occupation. approve. For this purpose we can again use the CMS. nearly all of them from 2006 onwards). The questions on military intervention were asked over the following periods: Iraq—April 2004 to January 2010. While all questions asked about approval or disapproval. region. disapprove. public opinion was clearly against intervention in Libya. Each group’s level of approval can be compared across the three military interventions and. Don’t know. Strongly disapprove. Ltd. 1 © The Author 2013. 2013 . all of the monthly surveys which asked a question on attitudes towards each intervention are pooled to create a larger sample of respondents. Table 3 shows the overall levels of approval and disapproval for each military intervention for a range of societal groups. No. Strongly disapprove. Strongly approve. We can also place attitudes towards the intervention in Libya in the context of public opinion towards Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. enabling a more robust comparison of group differences. we need to go beyond the overall proportions approving or disapproving and look at which particular societal groups were more likely to support (or oppose) military action. instead we should assess whether particular groups are broadly more supportive of military actions overseas. or strongly disapprove of Britain’s involvement in the war with Iraq. disapprove. Disapprove. The difference in response categories for the Libya question means that we should not focus on the precise level of approval for each group across interventions. approve. However. which was not included in the questions for Iraq and Afghanistan. neither approve nor disapprove. and Libya—March to May 2011. Strongly approve. do you approve or disapprove of Britain’s involvement in 124 BEN CLEMENTS military action in Libya? Strongly approve. It should be borne in mind that the presence of the neutral response in the Libya question means levels of approval (and The Political Quarterly. strongly disapprove. Approve. Vol. approve. 84. The data for each military intervention are based on responses to the following three questions: (a) Overall. The proportions giving a neutral response are also shown for the question on Libya. don’t know. This allows us to pinpoint which social groups were more or less in favour of the Libyan intervention. Here. (b) Please tell me whether you strongly approve. ethnic background. (c) Please tell me whether you strongly approve. The Political Quarterly © The Political Quarterly Publishing Co. 50 per cent disapproved and 22 per cent offered a neutral opinion (excluding ‘don’t know’ responses).

The gaps in approval levels between men and women were as follows: Libya AND PUBLIC OPINION MILITARY INTERVENTION 125 © The Author 2013. No. ‘Don’t know’ responses excluded. Those likely to be more supportive across all interventions include men and those belonging to a white ethnic group. 1 . It is evident that there are clear differences in levels of approval across social group categories. Ltd. Vol. Weighted data. disapproval) are probably lower than they otherwise would be.Table 3: Approval and disapproval of military interventions by social groups Group category LIBYA AFGHANISTAN IRAQ % % % % % % % Approve Neither Disapprove Approve Disapprove Approve Disapprove 28 36 20 28 25 33 26 32 25 22 20 24 22 22 23 21 22 22 50 44 56 50 54 44 53 46 53 35 45 25 35 30 36 34 38 33 65 55 75 65 70 64 66 63 67 30 37 23 30 22 27 31 30 30 70 63 77 70 78 73 69 70 70 All Male Female White ethnic group Other ethnic group Finished education: 21 or over Finished education: 20 or under Salariat Other occupatizon or never worked Lives in England Lives in Wales Lives in Scotland Conservative supporter Labour supporter Liberal Democrat supporter Other party/no party Reads tabloid most often Reads broadsheet most often None read most often Does not read a newspaper 28 29 30 33 27 34 23 25 37 39 25 22 24 20 22 21 20 23 23 19 23 22 50 47 50 45 51 45 54 52 44 38 54 34 37 41 36 43 31 26 34 36 35 34 66 64 59 64 57 69 74 66 64 65 66 30 32 30 29 44 18 22 33 25 26 29 70 69 70 71 56 83 78 67 75 74 71 Source: British Election Study – Continuous Monitoring Survey. 84. The consistently largest differentials across social group categories are between men and women. The Political Quarterly © The Political Quarterly Publishing Co. 2013 The Political Quarterly.

Weighted data. The pattern of support for partisans is interesting. 2013 . separately for men and women. Afghanistan—5 per cent. men are always more favourable towards military action. Afghanistan—20 per cent. Broadsheet readers were more likely than tabloid readers to approve of Britain’s involvement in Libya. the gaps in approval levels were: Libya—3 per cent. Iraq and Afghanistan for the different groups of party supporters. In terms of occupational grade. 1 © The Author 2013. For example. Vol. Specifically. To look in more detail at group divisions on the issue. but no more likely than other occupational grades (and those who have never been in work) to support the Iraq war.—16 per cent. ‘Don’t know’ responses excluded. Liberal Democrat supporters were less likely to approve of Britain’s involvement in Iraq (where they took a strong anti-war stance) and Afghanistan. white-collar jobs) were more likely to approve of Britain’s role in Libya and Afghanistan. Conservative and Liberal Democrat). as is also the case for those who support a minor party or do not have a partisan affiliation. Table 4 shows the associations between two areas in which 126 BEN CLEMENTS Table 4: Approval of military interventions: Partisanship by gender LIBYA Con (%) Lab (%) Lib Dem (%) 39 29 10 Lib Dem (%) 39 24 15 Lib Dem (%) 23 13 10 Other party/ none (%) 29 17 12 Other party/ none (%) 36 17 19 Other party/ none (%) 28 16 12 Men Approve Women Approve Difference AFGHANISTAN 46 21 25 Con (%) 33 20 13 Lab (%) Men Approve Women Approve Difference IRAQ 47 26 21 Con (%) 53 33 20 Lab (%) Men Approve Women Approve Difference 37 21 16 50 37 13 Source: British Election Study – Continuous Monitoring Surveys. levels of approval (again combining ‘strongly approve’ or ‘approve’) for the action in Libya. The Political Quarterly © The Political Quarterly Publishing Co. There are also group differences in levels of approval on the basis of party loyalties and newspaper readership. 84. There was little difference in views towards the conflict in Afghanistan. tabloid readers were more supportive of the war in Iraq. it is evident that those living in Scotland were clearly more supportive of the war in Afghanistan. respectively. ‘Difference’: percentage of men who approve minus the percentage of women who approve. Across supporters of the main political parties (Labour. and Iraq—8 per cent. members of the salariat (those in salaried. Looking at the regions where people live. The widest gap in attitudes occurred on the Iraq war. but were more supportive of action in Libya than Labour partisans were. with just 18 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters in favour compared to 44 and 29 per cent of Labour and Conservative partisans. There are some differences on the basis of education: those who finished full-time education aged 21 or older (many of whom will hold a degree-level qualification) were more supportive of the intervention in Libya but less likely to approve of the war in Iraq. 46 per cent of Conser- The Political Quarterly. The approval differentials between men and women are generally largest for Conservative supporters and smallest for Liberal Democrat supporters. on the basis of ethnic background. there were often clear differences in levels of approval: sex and partisanship. while regional differences were more muted for Iraq and Libya. Similarly. conversely. No. and Iraq—14 per cent. It shows. Ltd.

No. Vol. As other overseas conflicts have shown. We can build a ‘dynamic’ picture of the public mood using three areas of evaluation commonly used in public opinion research: first. how political leaders are handling the issue. Iraq and Afghanistan. Ltd. the public mood can shift over time in response to real or perceived operational successes and failures abroad and political events at home. Figures 1 – 3 show the proportions of respondents over time with (a) a positive opinion. while the figures for Afghanistan were 47 and 26 per cent. public approval for Britain’s role in Afghanistan has fallen over time. Women supporting the Liberal Democrats were most likely to approve of military action in Libya. across partisan affiliations. 84. support for military action in principle. second. Don't know Wrong Figure 1: Public opinion towards whether it was right or wrong to take military action in Libya Source: Compiled by the author from YouGov polls. Public opinion over time While we can gain considerable insight from analysing public opinion in a comparative perspective and by looking at attitudes across population groups. as even those who maintain that taking action was the right thing may shift their assessment on the issue —and their leader’s handling of it—in a negative direction. these both represent ‘static’ analyses. The Political Quarterly © The Political Quarterly Publishing Co. (b) a negative opinion and (c) no opinion either way. with sizeable gaps in approval levels within each partisan category. Similarly. Question: ‘Do you think Britain. Overall. men were more likely than women to support military action in Libya. It is important to examine these separately. while those who opposed the action in principle can still acknowledge when military operations are progressing well and a leader is managing the issue competently. assessments of how military operations are progressing.vative-supporting men favoured action in Libya compared to 21 per cent of women supporting the Conservatives. public opinion turned against the 2003 Iraq War after the initial invasion and the overthrow of Saddam 60 50 40 % 30 20 10 0 Right Hussein’s regime. respectively. 1 . the US and other countries are right or wrong to take military action in Libya?’ March 20-21 March 27-28 April 4-5 April 11-12 April 18-19 April 27-28 May 10-11 May 18-19 May 26-27 June 7-8 June 20-21 June 30-July 1 July 7-8 July 20-21 August 1-2 August 11-12 August 18-19 August 29-30 September 6-7 September 13-14 September 22-23 October 3-4 October 11-12 October 20-21 PUBLIC OPINION AND MILITARY INTERVENTION 127 © The Author 2013. They are based on regular online polling conducted by YouGov from the outset of the intervention in March through to the formal conclusion of the NATO mission at the end of October. Figures 1 –3 chart public opinion over time for these three different indicators. 2013 The Political Quarterly. third. In Britain and the US. France. while Labour-supporting women were most in favour of the actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Political Quarterly © The Political Quarterly Publishing Co. This type of question measures ‘generalised support for war’. and the lines often run in close proximity in April and May. Question: ‘How well or badly do you think David Cameron has responded to the situation in Libya?’ Figure 1 shows public opinion on the question of whether military action was right or wrong. The proportion with no opinion 128 BEN CLEMENTS The Political Quarterly. There is a final spurt of support in October. Ltd. Overall. and is commonly used in surveys and opinion polls. the reverse is the case from August onwards. 2013 . do you think the Coalition’s military action in Libya is going well or badly?’ 60 50 40 % 30 20 10 0 March 3-4 March 17-18 March 24-25 March 31-April 1 April 7-8 April 14-15 April 28-29 May 5-6 May 12-13 May 19-20 May 26-27 June 2-3 June 9-10 June 16-17 June 23-24 June 30-July 1 July 7-8 July 14-15 July 21-22 July 28-29 August 22-23 August 25-26 September 1-2 September 8-9 September 15-16 September 22-23 September 29-30 October 6-7 October 13-14 October 20-21 Figure 3: Public opinion towards David Cameron’s handling of the issue Source: Compiled by the author from YouGov polls. no doubt influenced by the death of Gaddafi and the sense of an eventual resolution to the internal fighting. as reported by the media and articulated by political leaders. 1 March 22-23 March 29-30 April 5-6 April 11-12 April 17-18 April 25-26 May 5-6 May 12-13 May 19-20 May 26-27 June 6-7 June 15-16 June 22-23 July 3-4 July 7-8 July 18-19 July 28-29 August 3-4 August 14-15 August 18-19 August 25-26 September 1-2 September 8-9 September 14-15 September 22-23 September 29-30 October 9-10 October 13-14 October 23-24 Well Badly Don't know (‘don’t know’) stays broadly the same over time. Vol. 84. During June and July the proportions against the action exceed those who support it. as the rebels steadily gained ground and took Tripoli. there is greater fluctuation in the public mood on this indicator and also sharper differences between viewpoints over time. The sharp increase in positive evaluations © The Author 2013.80 70 60 50 % 40 30 20 10 0 Well Badly Don't know Figure 2: Public opinion towards how military action is going in Libya Source: Compiled by the author from YouGov polls. positive assessments of the situation rise sharply during August and then increase again in October. No. ‘badly’ or ‘don’t know’).15 There is considerable oscillation in the proportions believing that the intervention was right or wrong. Question: ‘Overall. Consequently. showing that assessments are probably more sensitive to developments on the ground. There is an increase —albeit uneven—in negative evaluations in the early months of the conflict. they decline sharply during August. Figure 2 shows evaluations of military action in Libya (‘well’.

based on nationally representative samples. Question: ‘Do you agree or disagree with President Obama’s decision to take military action in Libya?’ © The Author 2013. Ltd. with the question’s wording explicitly referring to ‘President Obama’s decision’. When faced with such a question. Labour supporters were consistently likely to have less positive assessments on these two indicators. there was also a partisan basis to public opinion in the US. For comparison. It is not surprising that there are sharp differences between partisan groups when evaluating the prime minister’s role. Tripoli. there is less fluctuation in the proportions reporting no opinion. with Democrats more supportive than Independents and Republicans of their President’s decision Undecided Oppose Aug-17 Sep-16 Oct-14 Oct-22 Figure 4: Public opinion in the US towards military action in Libya Source: Rasmussen Reports. The spike in support in October also represents a response to the capture and killing of Gaddafi and the ending of major hostilities in much of the country. 84. then increased again in October. The Political Quarterly © The Political Quarterly Publishing Co. Figure 4 shows public attitudes in the US towards military action in Libya (those who ‘support’. There is evidence therefore that the public mood across countries 60 50 40 % 30 20 10 0 Support changed in a similar direction at key points in the Libya operation. It uses data from regular polling undertaken by Rasmussen from March through to October 2011. No.16 Based on the data shown in Figure 4. There is some decline in positive evaluations from April to June. As in Figures 1 and 2. respondents’ thinking will engage both the issue at hand and a clear political reference point (such as a leader or government). be filtered through pre-existing partisan loyalties or beliefs – they will be politically conditioned’. Vol. Liberal Democrat supporters occupied a broadly intermediate position on these two indicators. These tend to invite opinions which will invariably. but then decreased during August. The data show that the proportion opposed increased during May–July. the YouGov data show that Conservative supporters tended to have the most favourable ratings of the Prime Minister on this issue. if not inevitably. Negative evaluations decline during August–October. the proportion in favour rose in August. 2013 Mar-24 Apr-07 Apr-21 PUBLIC OPINION May-17 Jun-13 Jul-12 AND MILITARY INTERVENTION 129 The Political Quarterly. Correspondingly. they pick up in August and also rise again in October. 1 . fell back somewhat in September. ‘oppose’ or are ‘undecided’). ‘badly’ or ‘don’t know’). although their levels of support were closer to those expressed by Conservative supporters than those held by Labour partisans.during mid to late August clearly corresponds again to the rebel forces’ advance into and eventual capture of the Libyan capital. and more positive assessments of how the military action was going. as this represents a ‘mediated’ issue question. Figure 3 charts public evaluations of Cameron’s handling of the issue (‘well’. When examined in more depth on a partisan basis.

should international developments lead to a possible future intervention which raises the question of British involvement? The annual Chatham House–YouGov Survey on international affairs (fieldwork undertaken in June 2011) gauged public opinion on this topic and found: The survey results show a striking scepticism among the general public and opinion-formers about British military intervention abroad … There also seemed to be scepticism about intervention more widely. differences were less pronounced for partisanship and social class. while a plurality—47 per cent—said Britain should not be involved at all in such uprisings. political trust and media usage. respondents saying Britain should not involve itself in any way in uprisings like those in Egypt and Libya. those from white ethnic groups and. with nearly half of all 130 BEN CLEMENTS Specifically. Whether public opinion would broadly support or oppose a role for Britain in a future military intervention is contingent on variable aspects of the international scene (the stated rationale for the intervention. Just 21 per cent said such support should be offered. Attitudes are also underpinned by attitudinal factors. Across social groups. Ltd. those with higher educational attainment or in higher-level occupations.19 Clearly. shifting in a positive or negative direction. amongst the general public. Men were more supportive than women of military intervention across partisan categories. 21 per cent of the general public thought Britain had a moral responsibility to support them and 17 per cent thought Britain should support them contingent on it being in the national interest. men were more likely to agree than women (27 compared to 16 per cent). 84. as well as substantial support for UN backing for using force to deal with international threats (67 per cent in Britain). the cross-sectional profile of opinion showed that the more supportive groups included men.17 Conclusion What conclusions can be drawn for public opinion and future scenarios in which British forces could be committed to military action overseas? First. the wider body of survey evidence provides a mixed picture of public opinion on this issue. Third.18 Evidence from the Pew Research Centre’s Global Attitudes Project Spring 2011 survey shows. the nature and The Political Quarterly. however. In relation to popular uprisings in overseas countries. While they may be shaped by pre-existing attitudes. that there is widespread acceptance that military force is sometimes needed to maintain order in international affairs (70 per cent in Britain). This scepticism about military involvement overseas is underlined by the results of a YouGov poll undertaken in late August 2011 asking whether similar support to that given to the Libyan rebels should be offered to protesters in Syria rebelling against Bashar Assad’s regime.to participate in military action (details not reported here). The Political Quarterly © The Political Quarterly Publishing Co. public assessments are malleable and respond to major developments ‘on the ground’. such as party loyalties. No. what tentative comments can be made regarding public opinion. with 49 per cent against and a sizeable proportion (30 per cent) unsure. Second. the ‘dynamic’ analysis allowed us to build a clearer picture of shifts in public opinion over the duration of NATO’s involvement in Libya. when categorised socio-economically. 1 © The Author 2013. as was the case with previous military interventions. 2013 . 35 per cent supported military action against Iran to prevent them acquiring nuclear weapons. such as partisanship. Vol. The shifts in British public opinion shown here may be paralleled in the popular mood in other countries that participated in the Libyan intervention. compared to 47 per cent who were opposed.

84. R. ‘British Conservatism and Foreign Policy: Traditions and Ideas Shaping Cameron’s Global View’. after all. domestic issues. p. 21 March 2011. No. brave and not bombastic. Basingstoke.20 Set against perceptions of competence based on handling of foreign policy. Palgrave. in Developments in British Politics 9. 212. Yale University Press.chathamhouse. Palgrave. com/cumulus_uploads/document/wu3f2fqyga/ YG-ArchivesPR-YouGov-Syria-intervention-0802 12v2.uk/ polls/The_Index_(Afghanistan)_2_Oct11. 5. P. Says David Cameron’. including UN endorsement) as well as the domestic political situation (including the presence or absence of a partypolitical consensus and the popularity— or otherwise—of the current prime minister and government). 128. Ltd. 15 Emanuel Gregory Boussios and Stephen Cole.yougov. p. The American-Western European Values Gap. nytimes. 13 Douglas Alexander. 24 March 2011. ‘Libya Won’t Make David Cameron’s Reputation. while Libya represents a foreign policy success for the Coalition government—and for Cameron’s leadership in particular—its importance for public perceptions more generally is. 2011.comres. available at: http://d25d2506sfb94s. 4. 14 Tom Quinn. John Bartle and Anthony King. 2011. ‘Do Individual Characteristics Matter? An Analysis of Americans’ Opinions Toward the Korean. 12 The Economist. will be subliminal: a hazy sense that this Prime Minister might. good at fixing things. Palgrave. I think. 361. 2011. 11 The Economist. Available at: http://www. See also the more recent YouGov survey on attitudes towards possible military action in Syria at: http://cdn.com/2011/04/15/opinion/15iht-edlibya15. 6 Andrew Gamble. Basingstoke. Matthew d’Ancona has argued: Cameron’s achievement in Libya will not cement the public’s image of him definitely. ‘The Con-Lib Agenda’. see: http://www.pdf. Vietnam. From Crisis to Coalition: The Conservative Party. 10 For the full text. 8 Vickers. Basingstoke. Available at: http://www. in Britain at the Polls 2005. in The Cameron-Clegg Government. 3 Matt Beech. the role of regional and international support. November 2011. ‘Afghanistan Withdrawal Before 2015. ‘Why MPs Must Say Yes on Libya’. British Attitudes Towards the UK’s International Priorities. pewglobal.html?_r=1. 3. New Haven.pdf 20 Matthew d’Ancona. 283. 7 Patrick Wintour. p. ‘The Con-Lib Agenda for Foreign Policy and International Development’. 3. ‘Arab Spring: Where Next for UK Policy?’. ‘Bagehot: David Cameron’s War’. vol. including economic management and the quality of public services—the ‘breadand-butter’ concerns which influence voting behaviour and election outcomes. Persian Gulf and Iraq Wars’.pdf. pp. 1981. 2005. 13. 2011. 1 . Its impact. CQ Press. 27 August 2011.org/files/2011/11/Pew-Global-Attitudes-Values-Report-FINAL-November-17-201110AM-EST. arguably. be rather competent.pdf 18 Results available at: http://cdn. Journal of Applied Security Research. ‘Britain in the World’. or as Iraq branded Blair as an absentee adventurer and congenital liar. say. and less tractable. ‘Tony Blair’s Second Term’.net/cumulus _uploads/document/vtz3xqd2gf/YG-ArchivesPol-Trackers-Afghanistan-040712.cloudfront. Mark Garnett and Andrew Denham. 27 August 2011. Hay. 5 Peter Dorey. in The Chatham House–YouGov Survey 2011. p. 279–305. vol. 29. 26 June 2010. But It’s Certainly A Start’.pdf 2 Data available at: http://www. no. 9 Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt. 80–81. The Guardian.org/sites/default/ files/0711ch_yougov_analysis. ed. British Journal of Politics and International Relations. p. 2 October 2011. Fourth.co. Vol. 2010. ed. ‘David Cameron’s Libyan War: Why the PM Felt Gaddafi Had to Be Stopped’. however. no. Cowley and C. 205.extent of military operations. 2013 The Political Quarterly. The Guardian.com/ today_uk_import/yg-archives-pol-stresults-26-290811. The Political Quarterly © The Political Quarterly Publishing Co. ed. 16 Maurice Fiorina.yougov. limited. PUBLIC OPINION AND MILITARY INTERVENTION 131 © The Author 2013. p. Washington. Heffernan. Notes 1 Based on YouGov polling data. Coalition Politics in an Age of Austerity. the Falklands did its perception of Thatcher as the Iron Lady. 17 Jane Kinninmont. ‘The Ghost of Tony’.pdf 19 Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project. 4 Rhiannon Vickers. as. Retrospective Voting in American National Elections. Daily Telegraph. p. 317. pp. 1997–2010. The Guardian. p. are public assessments of the Coalition government’s and Cameron’s performance on a range of more pressing. Simon Lee and Matt Beech.

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