Does public approve of Libya war? It depends.

How many Americans approve of U.S. involvement in the war in Libya?  It depends on how you ask the question.

A new poll by CBS News, taken Sunday and Monday, finds that 68 percent of those surveyed approve of the military action, while just 26 percent disapprove.  But a new poll by Gallup, taken Monday, finds that just 47 percent approve, while 37 percent disapprove.

What's the difference?  Probably the wording of the question.  CBS asked it this way:

As you know, the U.S. military and other countries have begun cruise missile and air strikes in Libya in order to protect civilians from attacks by Gadhafi forces.  Do you approve or disapprove of the U.S. and other countries taking this military action in Libya?

In the Gallup poll, this was the question:

Next we have a question about the current military action by the United States and other countries against Libya.  Do you approve or disapprove of the current U.S. military actions against Libya?

Two very differently-worded questions.  It appears that defining the Libya action as one to “protect civilians” can mean a boost of 20 points in poll ratings.  Look for the Obama administration to continue to use the phrase in every statement about Libya, even if the attacks being described seem solely designed to destroy Moammar Gadhafi's military power and aren't effectively protecting civilians.

Gallup found that support for the Libyan operation is lower than for other U.S. military actions in the past.  In 2003, 76 percent of those surveyed approved of the invasion of Iraq.  In 2001, 90 percent approved of the invasion of Afghanistan.  In 1999, 51 percent approved of action in the Balkans.  In 1998, 66 percent approved of cruise-missile attacks against Afghanistan.  In 1994, 54 percent approved of action in Haiti.  And in 1993, 65 percent approved of action in Somalia.

In the case of the current action against Libya, it's 47 percent.  That is likely the product of two factors.  One, a lot of people don't approve of what the U.S. is doing.  And two, President Obama made no effort at all to prepare the public for military action.

Finally, Gallup found that more Republicans than Democrats support the president's military action in Libya, 57 percent to 51 percent.  Just 38 percent of independents approve.

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