Do Ordinary Syrians Want the U.S. to Intervene?

Douglas RiversChief Scientist
September 13, 2013, 7:09 AM GMT+0

Most of the reporting on the Syrian crisis, aside from occasional man-on-the-street interviews in Damascus, has come from outside Syria. The internet and mobile technology allow the voices of ordinary Syrians to be part of this debate.

YouGov operates market research panels around the world and over the past week has interviewed 835 Syrians (500 mobile, 335 internet). Many say their homes have been bombed and are displaced (one unlucky person four times!). The sister of another respondent lost her eye. They all have stories to tell, including this one from a respondent with a poetic touch:

The homeland is like the tender mother. As in life, when the mother gets sick -- the pillar of the family -- all other family members get affected with her sickness and their life changes... Everything changed for the worse of course and the smile was wiped of all faces.

This is not a representative sample: three-quarters are male, over half are under 30 years old, and just under 50 percent say they have a university degree. Most are poor (with monthly incomes under $266) and Sunni Muslims. But the sample also contains 248 supporters of the Assad regime, 152 opponents and a larger number who support neither side or prefer not to tell us. Through their differences and -- perhaps more surprisingly -- their points of agreement, these interviews provide a unique window on Syrian public opinion in a place where ordinary polling is impossible.

Most respondents, regardless of whom they support, are much more likely to think that chemical weapons were used than were not. Even among supporters of the government 48 percent think that chemical weapons were used and only 31 percent think not.

Who do these Syrians think used chemical weapons? Not surprisingly, most of the government supporters who think chemical weapons were used blame the opposition forces (by a 78-21 margin), while opponents believe the reverse by about the same margin (74-18). Those who are unaligned split about equally. Thus, without knowing the proportion of the population in each group, it's hard to say whom most Syrians believe is responsible.

On other matters, YouGov's respondents exhibit remarkable agreement. More opponents of the regime strongly disapprove of a U.S. military strike than favor it. 81 percent of government supporters, as well as 56 percent of those who prefer not to say. There's little evidence that ordinary Syrians favor an attack.

In fact, distrust of America is nearly unanimous among Syrian poll-takers. Only 7 percent of those interviewed thought that the U.S. government was "a friend of the Syrian people." There wasn't much disagreement on this point among supporters and opponents of Assad. 79 percent of supporters, 61 percent of opponents and 57 percent of non-aligned said the U.S. was "an enemy of the Syrian people."

Who do they think is their ally? Nearly all (77 percent) think Russia is a friend of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. Supporters of the government tend to equate this with being a friend of the Syrian people (by about the same proportion). Opponents and non-aligned respondents are less likely to think Russia is a friend of the Syrian people, though only a few offer an explanation ("because they are not sending their people to kill my people" and "Russia is a historic friend of the Syrian people"). Opponents and those who support neither the government nor the rebels are often quite cynical about Russian motives: "Because they support the death machine," "The weapons that kill Syrians are Russian," "They care only about their own financial, political, and economic interests" and "No one cares about the interests of the Syrian people." More of the regime opponents think Russia is their friend (39%) compared to those who think the U.S. is their friend (only 12 percent), but few seem to have confidence in any foreign power.

Douglas Rivers is a professor of political science at Stanford University and Chief Scientist at YouGov.

This blog originally appeared in The Huffington Post

Image: Getty

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