After Donald Trump ordered an airstrike on Syria Thursday night — in response, the administration said, to a chemical warfare attack against a Syrian town launched by that country’s own government on Tuesday — immediate speculation at least online was that the purpose of the attack was nothing more than to give Trump a boost in his record-low approval rating polls.
Syria strike meant to ease pressure on Trump-Russian Treason crime investigations and prop up failing approval polls https://t.co/TC44O51oTC
— A. Smith (@360CNN) April 9, 2017
Who thinks Trump cares less about dead children in Syria than the bump in polls he’ll get from the airstrike? pic.twitter.com/foQonNmwiA
— Truth Reigns (@FrReigns) April 7, 2017
The speculation may have stemmed from Tweets that Trump himself posted five years ago, when President Barack Obama was experiencing a drop in the polls — more than four years into his presidency. Obama’s rating had dipped to about 48 percent at the time Trump posted the following tweet. But the FiveThirtyEight.com polling average showed Trump at just 40.4 percent a mere 78 days into his term.
Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in tailspin – watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 9, 2012
But did the Syria strike, with the United States Navy firing 59 Tomahawk missiles at a single airbase in Syria — reportedly the airbase from which the Syrian government launched Tuesday’s chemical weapons attack — actually give Trump a boosting his approval ratings polls? While several more days of polling are required to get a clearer picture of whether Americans are “rallying around” Trump, early indications seem to show that Trump has received little if any benefit from his first major military action.
A Gallup daily tracking poll that ran through April 8 would have therefore included two days of polling, Friday and Saturday, after the Syria attack. The pol showed Trump at 40 percent approval — the exact rating Trump held on April 6, the day of the Syria strike.
In fact, Trump’s approval rating poll showed a slight decline, from recent peak of 42 percent on April 4 — which itself represented a significant recovery after Trump had bottomed out with a miserable 35 percent rating on March 28, according to the Gallup poll. Trump’s disapproval stands at 54 percent, according to Gallup. That rating has also remained stable since April 6.
Another daily tracking poll, Rasmussen Reports, included only one day of polling after the Syria strike. But the Rasmussen poll that included April 7 showed a slight, one-point uptick from the day before, with Trump at 45 percent approval and 55 percent disapproval.
While conventional wisdom holds that U.S. military actions produce a “rally around the flag” effect, along with a boost in poll ratings, research by polling expert Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight.com shows that such positive effects are actually rare.
According to Enten, the “rally around the flag” effect is most likely to take hold when five conditions are present. But for Trump, only one of those conditions is relevant.
Those conditions are as follows.
• The military action is early in a presidential term. This condition may benefit Trump, who as mentioned above, is only about 11 weeks into his term.
• The target of the military action is a major world power. Syria is not a world power, but a relatively small Middle Eastern country which has been torn by civil war for the past six years.
• The American strike has bipartisan support. While Democrats have been largely supportive of the strike against Syria, they have also expressed strong reservations about Trump’s refusal to give Congress advance notice of the attack.
• The United Nations Security Council approves of the military action. The United Nations was not consulted in advance of the attack, meaning that this condition does not apply to the Syria strike either.
• The military action has the clear goal of changing something. Military strikes that tend to produce “rally around” effects and as a result, a boost in polls, are usually designed to change the government of a foreign country, acquire land, or some other type of clear change. But that appears not to be the case in the Syria strike. In fact, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Sunday that the U.S. policy toward Syria has not changed.
And the following day after the attack, the Syrian air force used the same base targeted by the U.S missile strike to launch new airstrikes.
Polls released over the first days of next week will show in more definitive terms whether Trump got an approval rating boost from Thursday’s Syria strike.
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