This morning there was a new YouGov/Times poll asking about whether Britain should take part in military intervention in Syria.

A solid majority of the public believe that there probably was a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government or their allies – 61% agree, compared to 5% who believe that the attack was a fabrication, and 5% who believe neither claim. 29% do not know.

This does not, however, translate into support for military action. By 51% to 17% people oppose sending Britain and allied troops into Syria to remove Assad. The more likely option of a cruise missile attack on Syrian military targets also faces fairly solid opposition – just 22% would support it, 43% are opposed.

60% of people say they would support enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria, though given the opposition to other military options one suspects this could be because a “no fly zone” is a rather peaceful sounding euphemism for something that would in practice also involve attacking anti-air defences or the Syrian air force. The full tabs for the polling are here.

While the YouGov figures suggest that there is little public support for Britain getting involved in military action against Syria, there was also some Sky Data polling yesterday which was less clear. Asked if people would support or oppose “UK military action in response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria” 36% said support, 37% said oppose. However, asked about UK military action that might result in conflict with Russia, only 28% said they would support, 48% said they were opposed. Tabs are here.

The reason for that higher level support in that first Sky Data poll is unclear. It could be because the chemical attack was mentioned in the question, or perhaps because it asked about a vague “miliary action” rather than the more specific actions in the YouGov questions. Either way, it is clear that the public are, at best, ambivalent towards military action in Syria, with opposition to most specific proposals and to intervention that risks conflict with Russia.

305 Responses to “YouGov/Times poll on military intervention in Syria”

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  1. There you are – no support.

  2. Seems to me that any poll where the question is do you want war or peace the majority answer is mostly going to be peace.
    However if we had future insight into that decision say that doing nothing now would encourage the use of chemical weapons in the future in different conflicts or that it would embolden future Russian operations in the Baltic which could seriously push the west into war then maybe the answers would be different.
    The problem with doing nothing is yes for the time being you avoid conflict but in the long run appeasement brings nothing but disaster.

  3. The thing is, I rather suspect Theresa May is in favour of intervention.

    We are about to find out – is she a weathervane or a signpost?

  4. On a slightly cheerier subject, here’s a well-reasoned take on free buses for young people:

  5. Personal view: while I’m in favour of some kind of intervention on the grounds that Assad will keep up the atrocities as long as he goes unpunished, I think it is morally wrong for Theresa May to avoid a commons debate/vote on the issue. (And on a purely political level, they’re passing up the opportunity to make this into a wedge issue for a PLP heavily divided on foreign policy.)

  6. Anyone know what Sky’s “Experian Mosaic” is?


  7. Interesting but not unexpected split between Leave and remain over intervention.

    While there is little difference on A No Fly Zone, slightly more popular with remain voters, or Overthrow, slightly more popular with Leave, although far less popular with both than a No fly zone.

    On Using airpower the split is;

    Remain 19% Leave 28%

    On troops on the ground to protect Civilians

    Remain 26% Leave 20%.

    Those who support Leave seem to view defence in terms more of the UK security and prefer not to get involved on the ground in other peoples wars than remain.

    Remain seem more inclined to put troops on the ground, but
    whether that is to protect civilians in a safe haven or to get involved in the war is hard to tell.

    Given they are slightly less likely to support regime change it might suggest remain are more inclined to support limited intervention to protect civilians even if it means deploying abroad while leave would lean towards regime change by a surgical strike to decapitate the leadership.


  8. Totally against intervention. What are we trying to achieve? The removal of Assad? What happens then? As usual we have politicians all to willing to get involved without a clue about long term objectives.

  9. All that is required for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.

  10. @Peter Cairns:

    Are those differences that statistically significant? And might it not be about the differences in temperament amongst those who (first of all) support intervention?

    Personally, I support Leave and think we should leave well alone. But it would be hard to find in my reasons quintessentially Leave attitudes.

    The Syrian opposition has been behind awful crimes and will drive out all religious minorities (Christian, Jewish, Alawite, Druze) from the country. We will achieve nothing from military action except either:

    a) Killing some conscripts but for no military purpose – itself basically murder.

    b) Giving new heart to the opposition with disastrous results.

    I do not understand why Assad should use chemical weapons in a small way when close to victory in a particular location – but did not use them when utterly beleaguered earlier on in the war. I do know that allegations of atrocities is apt to lead to the West awarding victory to underdogs.

    So my reasons for being opposed to this have nothing to do with Leave.

    I do also believe that we should stop generally pretending to be a world power. Is that aligned to supporting Leave? An awful lot of Remainers believe the UK should resign itself to international insignificance. And an awful lot of Leavers thin we can be fab on the world stage.

    I just think that we have squandered a fortune since the War on military matters – and since the Cold War ended we have had no real military threat. So is that being a Leaver-isolationist? I think it is an idea more found on the left.

  11. (fpt)
    Colin, not sure if you were referring to me when you spoke of hostility to Jess Philips, I have no recollection of criticising her here, though I suppose it’s possible I may have done.

    Looks like we’re going to war again regardless of polling or Parliamentary convention, it’s a good job TM has such a solid record of making the correct decisions behind her otherwise things could get very untidy for her quite quickly.



    With the UN a busted flush, at some point the rest of the European Continent ( apart from France thus far) will , at some point, have to address the question-Is their ANYTHING Putin might do which we will find an unacceptable act ?

    And if the answer is NO-then at least no one will be surprised when he does it.

  13. TED

    No I think I was referring to other individuals.

  14. Interesting comments on Russia from UK’s top Spooks :-


    Er if you say. Getting involved in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria has worked so well in the past. Perhaps we should be bombing the Saudi regime if we want to be good men dealing with evil.

  16. @Turk

    If you’re going to elaborate in the polling question, it’s probably a bit skewed to just elaborate on the things that might justify military action, while leaving out ways in which military action and its aftermath might go pear-shaped.


    “All that is required for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.”


    Yes but there’s a vague on whether it helps if you mean well but do the wrong thing and make things worse.

  18. Is there an alternative proposal on the table? Or is just military strikes or nothing?

  19. @PTRP

    “This was the loads’a money generational change and it has set us on the path of splended exceptionalism. You were successful because you had a house had a car and loads’a’money and as you said we never looked back. It is why you can have scroungers versus strivers and much of that sort of sh1t.”


    Indeed, it’s gauging success by things like how much money you have, rather than your contribution. If someone chooses to get skilled up to be a nurse or paramedic in London, given the cost of living there now, they might not be left with much money after bills are paid but they’re making rather more contribution than a rich banker who played a part in trashing the economy in the Crunch.

    If you or someone you care about us dying, a paramedic could in principle charge quite a lot! But they don’t, so that everyone can access healthcare. The reduced earnings as a result does not make them a loser.

  20. Turk

    “in the long run appeasement brings nothing but disaster.”

    I remember Eden deploying precisely that argument to justify the Suez invasion.

  21. There are certainly people who strive, and there are certainly people who scrounge. Anyone who thinks that idea is “sh1t” needs to get out more and meet a wider circle of the UK’s residents.

    However, I don’t think those categories necessarily overlay neatly onto “people with money”, “people who take buses” etc.

    A paramedic paying £1000 pcm for a studio flat in London and taking the bus to work is a striver, straight up and down. But London has many, many scroungers. Would that some of them would apply for jobs as nurses or paramedics.

  22. @Neil A

    “However, I don’t think those categories necessarily overlay neatly onto “people with money”, “people who take buses” etc.”


    Did anyone do that? My paramedic example you cited was about contribution, and you can make contributions to society whether rich or poor.

    You can be a scrounger if rich, too!!

    It was just showing how being not well off does not automatically make you a loser. It didn’t suggest scrounging is ok!

  23. @Carfrew

    I was responding directly to the quote you posted from PTRP.

    In general I agree with you. The idea that someone taking the bus is a loser is utter nonsense, was my point.

    If someone wanted a car, but couldn’t afford it because they spent all their time online gambling and playing Candy Crush, they’d be a loser. But someone who inherits millions can spend all their time online gambling, playing Candy Crush and still afford a car (and much else besides). They are no more or less a loser because of their lack of need for a bus ticket.

    Personally, growing up in London, I took buses routinely and didn’t even start learning to drive until I joined the police (and then only for work reasons).

  24. Neil A

    “Is there an alternative proposal on the table? Or is just military strikes or nothing?”

    The Swedes have a reasonable one – but it doesn’t suit the interest of any of the parties (apart from the Syrian civilians)

  25. @Laszlo,

    Isn’t the Swedish proposal exactly the same as the US proposal the Russians have already vetoed?

    It seems the Russians want to be able to veto any report that follows from the inspection team, so insist that the decision on conclusions is taken in the Security Council where they can ensure this happens.

  26. @NEIL A

    “I was responding directly to the quote you posted from PTRP”


    Ah, I see. Just do you know, cars aren’t just for work, but can be very useful for picking up synths, moving stuff into storage, and even getting to polling stations (so I’be been led to believe).

    Are you looking forward to the days of autonomous squad cars?

  27. What evidence the 5% who ‘believe’ that reports of the attack were a fabrication, have for their conclusion is anyone’s guess.

    The only rational sceptical positions are ‘don’t believe either’ (although one must be right) or ‘don’t know’. Both answers amount the same thing.

    On balance however these are quite mature and morally sound views for people to take.The politicians perennial easy answer, that it’s fine to shoot missiles at people and run away, has no merit whatsoever, except within the moral vacuum in which politicians themselves exist:-

    Politicians like to be seen to be ‘doing something’, regardless of whether it works, or actually does more harm than good, and as long as they themselves don’t suffer any costs.

    The poll also shows the degree of ignorance on the part of the public which is regular feature of polls like this.

    UK Military action in Syria is CERTAIN to carry with it a RISK of conflict with Russia, and the public plainly have no idea what the pros and cons of no fly zone are.

    All this is merely evidence of something I myself often argue:- There is no point in polling the public on the pros and cons of things about which hardly any of them, have any understanding and most of them don’t have particularly settled views anyway.

    The merits and risks of ‘no fly zones’ and ‘military interventions’ of various sorts, are difficult enough matters for military experts to get a grip on, let alone members of the public who have never thought about them before, and are asked to offer expert opinions about everything under the sun on the spur of the moment.

    You might was well ask people how best to perform a brain operation.

  28. Judging by the statement from Downing Street tonight and the US, thankfully the rush of blood seems to be cooling a little.

    I’ve never understood the ‘something must be done’ attitude. If something is wrong, if you act then following outcomes may occur:

    a) It may improve matters
    b) It might make them worse
    c) It will have no effect

    Given the number of groups and nations (by proxy) represented in the Syrian Civil War, and the experience of other conflicts in the region, it could very easily become much worse. The variables are so complex and interlinked, I don’t think you can know with any certainty how that plays out.

    If it doesn’t make any difference, why do it?

    It may get better, but it needs a really good plan. However, related to the point about lots of variables, this takes some calculating, if you want see the likely outcomes.

    Making a balanced decision needs a broad international response, good intelligence and a statement of the genuine risks involved of making it worse. I also believe, even if a final vote isn’t needed in Parliament, a proper debate is needed so the Government has truly listened a broad set of views that reflects the electorate.

  29. Good posts from both Ronald Losen and CMJ. Thoughtful and well observed.

  30. Neil A

    The use of the veto (for entirely partisan reasons) by Permanent Members of the Security Council isn’t unique to Russia (either now or in its previous membership as the USSR).

    Russia has used its veto much less than the Soviet Union did, but as it has become involved in more wars in the last few years, has used it more.

    The USA has been the most frequent user of the veto since the 1970s (mainly to block resolutions against Israel and condemning human rights violations).

    China has used its veto several times – to protect Chinese interests.

    The UK used its veto on resolutions concerning Suez and Rhodesia.

    France has used its veto rather sparingly, but has concerning Suez and also on its overseas territories.

    There’s a list of Security Council vetoes here –

  31. Should read as Ronald Olden. Sorry Ronald.

  32. @Carfrew,

    I haven’t sat in a marked police car since the 1990s….

    I would love autonomous cars, though. They would be particularly great for covert operations, as you could just send them out with cameras onboard and not even bother to go with them.

    As for the tasks you list.. there are taxis and “(wo)man with a van” operators for that stuff…. Also my wife has a car…

  33. @Oldnat

    My point wasn’t about UNSC vetoes in general. Everyone knows they render the body virtually pointless.

    It was the idea that the UNSC would have the final decision over the outcome of the independent investigation that was a bit strange.

    It’s not as if the US wanted to be able to veto this… in order to prevent any “chemical weapons weren’t used” or “it wasn’t the Syrian government or the Russians” conclusion. They were in favour of the enquiry team making it’s own decision.

    It would be like holding a trial, in which any verdict from the jury had to be agreed unanimously by both prosecution and defence. Pointless.

    The Swedish proposal doesn’t seem to really cut this Gordian knot. So far as I can tell from the proposal, the investigation would be able to make its own conclusions without UNSC approval. Ergo it will be unacceptable to the Russians. But I guess we’ll see what happens if it ever gets to the vote.

  34. @Ronald,

    I agree entirely. Unfortunately the logic of your post is that the public should “leave it to the experts” – something people are extremely averse to doing when those experts consist of military and intelligence analysts and Western governments.

    I am a bit conflicted. I too feel that “must do something” is not a good enough motivation, and was a bit burned by the chaos of the Libya intervention (although I still think people have Iraq and Afghanistan wrong).

    On balance I think if the “experts” are able to furnish a military option which specifically targets Syrian capability to deliver such weapons, then the “good” – in terms of reducing further attacks and providing disincentives – may outweigh the risk of poking a stick at the Russians.

    The only other thing I might support would be a decapitation strike against Assad. But of course whether these things are achievable or not is something only those who have the knowledge and access to intelligence can judge – which doesn’t include us.

  35. OLDNAT

    “There’s a list of Security Council vetoes here –

    Blimey! That’s just what I was wanting for xmas.

  36. Oldnat

    The suez crises had nothing to do with appeasement it was a invasion by the U.K. of a sovereign country to secure what was then seen as strategic asset.
    Eygpt had taken control of the canal .Israel then France and Britain followed as an invasion force there was no war beforehand or negotiation from any of the invading forces it was wrong from start to finish and as soon as the US told us that economic sanctions would be imposed against the UK we got out.
    If your looking for appeasement consequences then Chamberlain would be a much better example.


    The chances of military action going pear shaped is a given but just asking a polling question on a narrow basis without expanding it to a broader question of curtailing future use of prohibited weapons or Russian expansionism seems to me your only going to get one narrow answer.
    After all these pages are full of people who think the brexit question was ask on far to narrow base in/out without looking at the implications I just think the same could be said for the military action in Syria.
    Incidentally my view is we should have taken military action in 2013 and the political decision not to was a disgrace that lead directly to a number of things including the use of chemical weapons to possibly influencing the outcome of brexit with the huge number of refugees flooding into Europe,any action we know take can only be in the form of a military message that in the face of the utter uselessness of the UN we as a country with our allies are not afraid to speak out and won’t be cowed by Putin.

  37. Neil A

    I don’t find it strange that a major power wants to avoid anything that would criticise a nasty little ally.

    But we can agree that the exercise of vetoes by Permanent Members of the SC makes it impossible for effective action against any of them (or their nasty allies) to be taken.

    Other than that, however, the UN does do good work, so neither of us would want to write that off,

    As to the Swedish proposal (and others concentrating on the chemical weapon issue), I’m unclear as to why there is still so much concentration on that.

    In the early 20th century, when chemical weapons were new, and were seen as uniquely targeting civilians, that was understandable, but by the mid 20th century, routine targeting of civilians was “normal” and, in proxy wars virtually mandatory.

    Is there a meaningful difference between being killed by sarin, chlorine, a barrel bomb, a cruise missile, a pipe bomb or a nuke?

  38. @Neil A

    “I would love autonomous cars, though. They would be particularly great for covert operations, as you could just send them out with cameras onboard and not even bother to go with them.”


    Ah, I was thinking that maybe because you didn’t have to drive, you might get more paperwork done in transit. It didn’t occur to me that you might not need to go in the car at all. But given the cuts…

  39. @Turk

    Yes, I wasn’t challenging your idea of a more elaborate question. Was just saying that maybe it shouldn’t just give one side of the argument!

  40. Turk

    “The suez crises had nothing to do with appeasement”

    I know that, and you know that. Possibly, Eden knew that as well, but that was the argument that he used.

    It’s also possible that he believed in what he said – until Cameron, I had him down as the most incompetent UK PM of my lifetime.

    Consequently, your repetition of Eden’s argument is less than convincing.

  41. “Vladimir Putin’s abusive stranglehold over European gas supplies has been laid bare by explosive EU documents, exposing deliberate violations of EU law and a pattern of political bullying over almost a decade.

    The longest investigation in EU history found that the Kremlin-controlled energy giant Gazprom has used its enormous power to pressure vulnerable states in Eastern Europe, and to fragment the EU’s unified energy market with coercive pricing policies.

    The report suggests that Germany has been enjoying a sweetheart deal with Gazprom, gaining a competitive advantage in gas costs at the expense of fellow EU economies and leaving front line states at the mercy of Moscow’s strong-arm tactics.”


  42. Putin is playing a very strategic game.

  43. @Oldnat

    I share your view that to separate out specific weapons of war, when others are at least as devastating, is a bit quirky. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never been a unilateral disarmer. I don’t really see the difference between warning off your potential attackers with the threat of millions of bullets, shells and bombs and doing it with four submarines carrying missiles.

    But for whatever reason, the international community made it (or at least said they made it) a line in the sand. That line has allegedly been repeatedly crossed.

    I don’t the targeting of civilians is now “normal” although it’s certainly “frequent” and “common”. I also don’t think that’s a new situation. It is really the difference between seeing the enemy government as your target and the enemy people. The Middle East feels to me like the 30 years war, where the purpose of the fighting is to extinguish a belief, not an army. You can’t extinguish a belief by only killing people in uniform.

    My fear is that “doing nothing” about Syrian government chemical weapons attacks might take us closer to seeing the targeting of civilians as “normal” rather than “common”. I don’t want to see a future Arab-Israeli war, or an invasion of (what’s left of) Ukraine in which tons of chemicals are sent against civilians and troops alike, with the victors simply breezing in wearing NBC suits ready to take possession of and cleanse the territory they have been coveting.

  44. *I don’t think the targeting

  45. Colin

    No doubt someone will link to the actual report, which is unlikely to have the florid extravagance of the language used by the Telegraph (not that I think you are to blame for the excesses of that publication!

    Stripped of its bias, that report would seem to suggest that

    1. a commercial producer extracts the highest possible prices from its customers.

    2, the best discounts on that price can be achieved by the largest customers.

    Maybe the EU should have become the “super-state” that some Leavers accuse it of, and used its huge market strength to negotiate a greater discount for the whole EU?

  46. It is good to see Brexit Britain being the tolerant, welcoming country of Brexiters’ aspirations. Unless, it seems unless you are from former Caribbean colonies, black and domiciled, working and tax paying in the UK for decades:

  47. Neil A

    I suspect our positions aren’t that dissimilar.

    The comparison with the 30 Years War is one that I’ve used before – but with the added complication of how it might have been if the Ming Dynasty in China and the Great Mogul in India had used it to pursue their own interests by supporting one side or the other.

  48. @Peter Cairns

    It is Experians’ way of dividing up the population for their marketing purposes, which is now used by other organisations and government departments:

    I don’t think that they have a group for UKPR commenters; we’re just too diverse.

  49. I am pleased to see quite a few messages on UKPR urging the UK government not to intervene in Syria meantime. But quite a few hawks are around including in TM`s cabinet wanting immediate action against Assad and Putin, so I have reposted below my reasons against intervention that I posted at the tail of the previous thread.

    I believe that:

    1. the need for deterring Syrian use of chemical weapons has become less because rebel enclaves have been much reduced in number and those remaining might well be left in rebel control in a Syrian settlement.

    2. the dangers of starting further conflicts in the region are immense – it`s more complicated than Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

    3. any action that boosts Trump`s self-confidence could lead to him behaving totally recklessly in other areas – Theresa May ought to be urging caution, not fanning flames..

    4. (this is minor), the UK hasn`t the combat resources to do much more than give token support, but in joining an attack it makes the UK vulnerable from other Middle East extremists

  50. @Davwel

    I think some intervention will be needed at some point. Assad is a nasty piece of work, and the war has too many proxy players to it to be a local matter that resolves itself.

    Ultimately there needs to be a political solution, and one that all the players can live with.

    That means stopping the killing first.

    After that humanitarian relief/first responders.

    After that talk, talk and talk some more.

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