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CNN Poll: Part of Syria strike opposition is the messenger's fault

By Paul Steinhauser, CNN Political Editor
September 10, 2013 -- Updated 1234 GMT (2034 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Americans are evenly divided on Obama leadership qualities and whether he's trustworthy
  • White House has failed to explain its Syria plan -- only 1 in 5 say they fully understand it
  • War weariness is partly to blame: Three-quarters say U.S. shouldn't be world's policeman

Washington (CNN) -- A new national poll suggests that as President Barack Obama prepares to try to convince a skeptical American public why the U.S. should take military action against Syria, he may be partly to blame for the box he's put himself into.

The CNN/ORC poll released Tuesday indicates that Americans are divided evenly on whether Obama is a strong leader as well as whether he's honest and trustworthy.

"One concern is the messenger himself," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. "The public's split right down the middle on whether Obama is a strong leader, whether he is honest and trustworthy, and whether he inspires confidence."

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And the poll also found that only one in five say they completely understand Obama's Syria policy.

A little more than half said they "somewhat" understand the administration's game plan and about three in 10 said they are not very clear, or don't understand at all, the administration's strategy.

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Obama will get the opportunity to explain the policy directly to the American people when he addresses the nation at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday.

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War weariness is also partly to blame, the poll suggests — six in 10 say the Iraq war was a mistake and about half say the same thing about the war in Afghanistan. As a result, three-quarters say the U.S. shouldn't play the role of world policeman.

"The president's challenge is profound, both from a personal and from a policy standpoint," said CNN Chief National Correspondent John King. "Personally the country is split on their opinion of the president, and from a policy perspective they have huge doubts right now."

Polls released on Monday showed that more than seven in 10 Americans said a strike would not achieve significant goals and a similar number said they didn't see how a strike on Syria would serve the national interest.

A majority opposes Congress passing a resolution that would give Obama the authority to launch military operations against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which Obama says is responsible for a chemical weapons attack on civilians that killed more than 1,000 people.

CNN Poll: Most don't want Obama to attack Syria

Members of Congress say they're hearing that opposition from their constituents. While most members of the House and Senate say they're undecided on how they'll vote, the number of those who have made up their mind they will vote against it by far outnumber those who say they'll vote for it.

The president is also up against the fact that Syria is nowhere near the top issue for most Americans.

"Syria may be the topic 24/7 on Capitol Hill and at the White House, but nearly three times as many Americans say the economy's the country's top issue than say the same about Syria," Holland added.

The poll was conducted for CNN by ORC International September 6-8, with 1,022 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

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