American Public Opinion on Syria

By Dina Smeltz, Craig Kafura and Nabeel Khoury

In the wake of the chemical attacks in the suburbs of Damascus, the drumbeat is increasing for western military intervention in Syria. Surveys conducted since the Syrian conflict began in 2011 have found substantial reticence among the US public for taking direct military action. Americans want to avoid getting drawn into confrontations abroad, and they are also concerned about the consequences of arming Syrian rebel groups. At the same time, Americans continue to express support for military action in particular situations, such as multilateral interventions, in cases of humanitarian crisis or genocide, or when US lives are not risked in the effort. Taken together, the findings suggest that the public could be swayed by persuasive arguments or evidence that Syria has become one of these particular situations. But neither those arguments nor the evidence have been put forth yet.

Attitudes toward Taking Action in Syria

When asked about a series of diplomatic and military options the United States could pursue in Syria along with its allies, the 2012 Chicago Council Survey showed that a majority of Americans supported increasing economic and diplomatic sanctions against the Syrian regime (63%), and nearly as many favored enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria (58%). A majority, however, opposed bombing Syrian air defenses (72%, 22% supported), a likely prerequisite for enforcing a no-fly zone. Beyond these options, a majority opposed sending troops into Syria (81% opposed, 14% favored). In sum, Americans did not want to turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, and seemed willing to do something more than just diplomacy and sanctions, but stopped short of actual military action. Continue reading

Oilè! Mexican Public Opposed to Pemex Privatization

Mexican President Peña Nieto recently proposed changes to the country’s constitution to allow private investment in Mexico’s oil industry.  This is a maverick move in a country whose “national DNA has been programmed to see energy as a national treasure” [as described by a McClatchy report]. President Cardenas nationalized the oil industry in 1938 and ejected foreign investment (including Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell) in that sector. Previous efforts to open up the sector prompted public protests and eventually fizzled. Besides its symbolic importance of national independence, the state-owned oil monopoly Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) employs over 100,000 Mexicans (with strong union representation), and oil proceeds comprise a third of all revenues raised by the central government.

Because of the sensitivities over the ownership of oil, the government plans to offer foreign investors a share in the profits of the oil and gas they produce, rather than allowing them to invest in the reserves themselves. Loren Steffy, writing for Forbes.com, comments that Peña Nieto’s plan is likely to encourage some form of joint venture with foreign companies to get around the legal challenges. But Steffy points out that “getting around public opposition may prove far more difficult.” Two polls conducted  in Mexico corroborate this point.

Continue reading

A Hot Mess: Relative Rankings of Climate Change as a Major Threat

home-earthBy Dina Smeltz

Over the first few days of August, I participated in a training session along with over a thousand climate leader candidates for the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, a grassroots network of climate leaders trained by Al Gore and others to highlight the urgency of the climate crisis.

The group of climate trainees included individuals from 70 different countries (and all 50 US states), and their task is to raise awareness and increase public concern at the local, national and international level.  Already familiar with American public perceptions of climate change, I decided after the training to track down a comparison of international views of climate change.  Fortunately, Pew research has done another great multinational comparison of the top global threats in North America, and among select countries in Europe, Middle East, Asia/Pacific countries, Latin America and Africa.

While China and the US are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases in the world, the publics in those countries are not as concerned about climate change as are publics in less polluting countries.  Median percentage-wise, fewer in both the US (40%) and China (39%) say that global climate change is a major threat than median averages in Canada (54%), Europe (54%), Asia/Pacific nations (56% including China and Pakistan), Latin America (65%) and Africa (54%).  The Middle East median average (42%) of those believing that climate change is a major threat is about the same as in US and China.

But when reviewing the results in relative ranking to other top threats, global warming is a TOP concern in China (39% major threat), along with the threat of US power and influence (39%) and international financial stability (38%).  In fact, among the East Asian countries surveyed, climate change ranks as the top concern for Australians (52%), Indonesians (59%), Filipinos (66%), and South Koreans (85%).  Climate change is also among the top three major threats for the Japanese (72%), just after North Korea’s nuclear program (77%) and China’s power and influence (74%).

Americans are, of course, further away from the threat from Pyongyang than the Asia-Pacific countries; nevertheless, the threat from North Korea’s nuclear program is more alarming than climate change to US citizens. Climate change is the sixth most urgent threat to Americans (40%), after North Korea (59%), Islamic extremist groups (56%), Iran’s nuclear program (54%), International financial stability (52%), and China’s power and influence (44%).

Major Threats

Some readers might say that Asian publics are more focused on the issue of climate change because of their proximity to China, heightening their concern about China’s impact on the climate.  But our Canadian neighbors rank global climate change as the top major threat  facing their country (54%), followed by North Korea’s nuclear program (47%) and international financial stability (45%). Perhaps Canadian concern is heightened by proximity to the US.

The bottom line is that publics in the world’s top polluting countries are not nearly concerned enough about their countries’ impact on the planet.  We need to make the case – as the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 does –  that experts are predicting profound and adverse effects from climate change beyond extreme weather that could affect global agriculture, food supplies and water.  Josh Busby, a RunningNumbers guest blogger and author of a Council on Foreign Relations report on climate change and national security, points out that the effects of climate change could stretch US disaster-response capabilities for both domestic and international crises.  Moreover, the indirect effects of climate change could lead to massive migration shifts to meet resource needs, contributing to regional competition, hostilities or political instability.

I guess we have our work cut out for us.