Analysis: Opinions on Libya

Anthony WellsHead of European Political and Social Research
March 22, 2011, 8:46 PM GMT+0

The headline figures on whether people support the military action in Libya are somewhat contradictory. In our daily polling for the Sun we found that, on balance, people supported the military action against Libya by 45% to 36%. Meanwhile a ComRes poll for ITV news found almost the exact opposite ‒ 35% supported the action but 43% opposed it.

There were a number of differences in the polling. Firstly the fieldwork dates for our poll were between Sunday evening and Monday afternoon, while the ComRes poll was conducted between Friday and Sunday, so if public opinion was moving very quickly it could have changed between the two polls. Alternatively the difference could be down to question wording. YouGov's question asked:

'Do you think Britain, France, the US and other countries are right or wrong to take military action in Libya?'

while ComRes's question asked if people agreed that:

'It is right for the UK to take military action against Colonel Gaddafi's forces in Libya'

It may be that the difference was down to our question's presenting of the military action as a joint effort between the USA, France and Britain, while ComRes's question focused upon Britain alone.

In the rest of our polling on Libya, people broadly approved of David Cameron's handling of the Libya Crisis so far, with 44% thinking he had done a good job, 35% a poor job. This compares positively to impressions of President Obama's handling of the issue ‒ only 29% thought he had handled it well, compared to 45% who think he has performed poorly.

Overwhelmingly, British people perceive the Libyan people as not supporting Colonel Gaddafi (only 4% of people believe that the Libyan people support their leader), however they are less certain whether they see coalition forces as their allies - 37% think the Libyan people welcome the West's involvement, 39% think the coalition forces will be seen as enemies of the Libyan people.

There is comparatively little support for the principle of regime change ‒ only 30% of people think that the coalition should be actively attempting to remove Colonel Gaddafi from power, with 56% thinking we should do only what is necessary to protect Libyan civilians.

That said, a majority of people think that it is actually only possible to protect civilians by removing Gaddafi. Only 16% think that it would be possible to come to a deal where Libyan civilians are protected while Gadaffi remains in power, 54% think it would only be possible to protect them by removing Gaddafi. Almost half (46%) of people think that the military coalition should attempt to target Gaddafi himself in air strikes if the opportunity arises, 30% of people disagree.

See our survey on Libya and Gaddafi for the Sun here
See our survey specifically asking about military action here

Related: See a summary of our comparisons between Iraq and Libya here