** Lib Dem members’ poll results on Syria ** Military intervention: 25% say No, 7% say Yes. 62% say Yes BUT…

Lib Dem Voice yesterday polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of the situation in Syria. Some 580 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results today. The survey remains open and we’ll update these results in the next day or so if they change.

Lib Dem members: opposed to Iraq and Afghanistan wars; supportive of Libyan and Kosovo interventions

First, we asked about views of UK involvement in recent conflicts abroad. There was a big span of views. Unsurprisingly, given the Lib Dems were the only party to vote against military action against Iraq in 2003, members remain opposed, by an overwhelming 95% to 5%. However, on the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan (which the party broadly supported) opinion is more split: 57% oppose it compared to 43% who back it. However, there is strong backing by Lib Dem members for the UK’s military involvement in both Libya in 2011 (by 74% to 23%) and Kosovo in 1999 (by 86% to 7%). Support among Lib Dems for action in Syria is likely to hinge on which of these conflicts UK involvement starts to most resemble.

Thinking about the UK’s involvement in recent conflicts abroad, to what extent do you now support or oppose each of the following?

The UK’s involvement in the invasion and occupation of Iraq

    80% – Strongly oppose
    14% – Somewhat oppose
    TOTAL OPPOSE = 94%
    4% – Somewhat support
    1% – Strongly support
    TOTAL SUPPORT = 5%
    0% – Don’t know

The UK’s involvement in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan

    28% – Strongly oppose
    29% – Somewhat oppose
    TOTAL OPPOSE = 57%
    34% – Somewhat support
    9% – Strongly support
    TOTAL SUPPORT = 43%
    1% – Don’t know

The UK’s involvement in enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya

    8% – Strongly oppose
    15% – Somewhat oppose
    TOTAL OPPOSE = 23%
    42% – Somewhat support
    32% – Strongly support
    TOTAL SUPPORT = 74%
    3% – Don’t know

The UK’s involvement in the military campaign to establish a UN peacekeeping presence in Kosovo

    3% – Strongly oppose
    4% – Somewhat oppose
    TOTAL OPPOSE = 7%
    29% – Somewhat support
    57% – Strongly support
    TOTAL SUPPORT = 86%
    6% – Don’t know

Lib Dems split on principles of UK overseas involvement

We next looked at some of the underlying principles behind UK involvement overseas. The most interesting result, I think, is the final one. Most Lib Dems accept there is a responsibility to act overseas in concert with other countries for specific reasons. But asked if that should be only reasons of self-defence and humanitarian aid, or could be for other purposes, our sample of party members split down the middle 46%-45%.

[table id=10 /]

Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons: 38% more likely to back military action as a result

The alleged use of chemical weapons by Assad’s regime – crossing President Obama’s ‘red line’ – is the potential casus belli. And it has had a big impact on a substantial minority of Lib Dem members: 38% are more likely to support military action as a result. However, it has made no difference to a majority (52%), most of whom are opposed to military action as it stands (46%).

Last week there were reports that Syrian government forces have used chemical weapons against their opponents in a suburb of Damascus, the capital of Syria. Does this affect your view of whether Britain should take part in military action against the government of President Assad?

    38% – Yes, I now support military action MORE than I did before

    1% – Yes, I now support military action LESS than I did before

    6% – No, I support military action just as much as I did

    46% – No, I oppose military action just as much as I did

    8% – Don’t know

No to supporting anti-Assad troops – but enforcing no-fly zone divides opinion

What kind of intervention might Lib Dem members support if it comes to it? Offering any level of military support to the anti-Assad troops is opposed by a substantial majority of Lib Dem members. Missile strikes against military sites within Syria are also opposed by a 57% to 29% margin. However, the result is much closer when asked about enforcing a no-fly zone: 46% would oppose it, but 38% would back such an intervention.

Thinking about the situation in Syria, here are some things that Britain’s Government is reported to be considering, in partnership with other countries such as France and the United States. Would you support or oppose each of the following?

Sending defensive military supplies, such as anti-aircraft guns, to the anti-Assad troops

    29% – Support

    56% – Oppose

    14% – Don’t know

Sending full-scale military supplies, such as tanks and heavy artillery, to the anti-Assad troops

    7% – Support

    81% – Oppose

    11% – Don’t know

Using British aircraft and missiles to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria and, if necessary, use them against aircraft and airports operated by the Assad regime

    38% – Support

    46% – Oppose

    16% – Don’t know

Using British missiles, fired from ships off the coast of Syria, against military sites inside Syria

    29% – Support

    57% – Oppose

    14%– Don’t know

Military intervention: 25% say No, 7% say Yes. 62% say Yes BUT…

The big question we left to the end (deliberately) – should the UK join with other countries in a military attack against the Assad regime? One-quarter (25%) of Lib Dem members are outright opposed to military intervention. A much smaller group (7%) think military intervention is essential. The vast majority (62%) of Lib Dem members fall between these two opposed options, believing intervention might be right, but only under specific conditions. The most popular option sets a high bar for supporting a military strike: if there is compelling evidence of the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime AND Parliament approves military intervention with achievable outcomes AND the United Nations security council sanctions it – then, and only then, would 37% of Lib Dem members back military intervention.

Should Britain join the US and France in prosecuting missile strikes against the Assad regime in Syria?

    7% – Yes, intervention is essential

    12% – Yes BUT only if compelling evidence is found by UN inspectors of the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime

    9% – Yes BUT only if Parliament approves military intervention with achievable outcomes

    4% – Yes BUT only if the United Nations security council sanctions military intervention

    37% – Yes BUT only if ALL these conditions – compelling evidence; Parliamentary approval; United Nations sanction – are met

    25% – No, intervention is wrong

    6% – Other

    1% – Don’t know

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Some 580 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted on 28th and 29th August.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    33 Comments

    • But since it is generally recognised that UN backing would be almost impossible to achieve, when set against the options facing the UK now, the results of the survey are effectively 60-70% against and 25-30% for.

    • Eddie Sammon 29th Aug '13 - 1:51pm

      It is not “Yes BUT”, it is “no, HOWEVER” and it shows 87% oppose intervention, which is in line with national polling.

      I would not underestimate the negative consequences of combining dishonesty with military hawkishness.

    • The critical question – which wasnt asked – is would support action if compelling evidence and parliamentary approval, but Russia vetoes UN support.

    • Maggie Smith 29th Aug '13 - 2:25pm

      It’s looking more and more shambolic as the days go on, no wonder they were so keen to let fly. The longer this drags on the more scrutiny is being applied. (No wonder the US are getting fidgety they don’t like delay or scrutiny).

      Once the fighting starts its a) Too late to complain without being dismissed as a pacifist type protest orientated individual or b) If Any troops are involved at all it becomes a case of “Support for our boys and girls!” and the rights and wrongs get pushed to the background.

      The evidence your leader is supporting is currently at the level of “highly likely”, that might be good enough for him but is it good enough for you?

      I wonder what % of those polled would consider “Highly Likely” as being good enough?

    • “62% oppose any action without UN approval which the UK Government appears not to be pressing for.”

      I make it 66%, counting “No” and two of the “Yes, buts”.

    • Tony Greaves 29th Aug '13 - 3:12pm

      The last two questions seem to have contradictory answers. On the other hand, I don’t think I fully understand the complexities of the last question!

      Tony

    • I agree with Gareth. Very unhelpful (to the party’s reputation) and misleading headline to say that 62% back military action, when a healthy majority (excluding don’t knows) oppose each of the military options proposed.

    • Can I ask if the LD Party accepts their Government’s PM’s description of Ed Miliband as an F C and giving succour to Assad when he has asked for the force used to be legal, with support of the UN, proportionate and with defined goals?

      Can I alsoask i Blair ever used such a description to attack the principled and consistent stance taken by the LD in opposition to the Iraq Conflict?

      In 2003 Blair used the excuse of an ‘unsupportable veto’ to abandon the quest for a 2nd UN resolution. The legal differences being on whether the first resolution gave permission for ‘all necessary means’

      Currently the UN hasn’t even debated this, never mind listed to the opinion of the weapons inspectors. At least Blix was allowed to speak before being side-lined

      If the UNSC discusses the reports and then votes and a consensus is not obtained it will be the same as Blair in 2003. No UN agreement so the legal basis will not be clear and the AG’s advice today is definitely not watertight.

      The only reason we are not voting on military action today, before any UNSC discussion, is because of Labour and Tory rebels. It has had nothing to do with the LD taking a stand. How do you feel about that?

    • Quite a misleading headline! Surely a better one would be “No, but…”. There are clear majorities against intervention, unless the UN and parliament approves and there is concrete evidence.

    • Alan Marshall

      It does not surprise me though…does it you?

      Do you think that in Opposition the LD would be taking the bellicose Tory line?

    • The other answers showed clearly that members were against different types of military action. Only 28% of people in t he last question gave answers that would indicate they agreed with military action in the current circumstances. As UN approval seems unlikely, a majority are effectively saying no

    • Surely “No, unless” would would have been a significantly more honest interpretation of the 62% than “Yes. But”.
      Can’t say I’m surprised by the way you are trying to spin it.

    • “Yes, but” is what was asked and what was reported. No spin. Fundamentally, nearly 70% support a military response to a confirmed chemical attack so long as parliament and the UNSC consent. I would, though, be interested in knowing why so many give such weight to the whim of despots like Vladimir Putin.

    • William Jones 29th Aug '13 - 8:57pm

      Shocking misrepresentation of the results in the headline, Stephen Tall!

    • Paul in Twickenham 29th Aug '13 - 8:59pm

      @Stephen – whoever wrote the question chose to use a form of words that implies consent provided conditions are met when it would be equally valid to say that respondents are expressing refusal unless conditions are met. That seems like the very definition of spin.

    • The main point of the question is to determine whether people think a military response is the correct way to deal with the use of chemical weapons. Getting the approval of Parliament and/or the UNSC are just ways to legitimise that action, they don’t place restrictions on the nature of chemical attack or the nature of the military response. Therefore “Yes, but” is not misleading at all.

      Now if, in general you are against the whole concept of a military response to chemical attack but would make an exception in very specific circumstances then “No, unless” would be more appropriate. For example: “No, unless the attack was made against a British target.”.

      If people are answering “Yes, but only with the UN” because they know full well the UN, or rather Putin, will never agree then they should just be honest and answer “No”. It is, though, reasonable for Stephen to assume people are being honest when answering the question and therefore not appropriate to interpret this answer as being against a military response in principle.

    • “The main point of the question is to determine whether people think a military response is the correct way to deal with the use of chemical weapons.”

      But for every suggested category of military response, more people are against it than for it!

    • Israel used white phosphorus indiscriminately in Gaza

      The US blocks all resolutions against Israel as routine so there is no chance of any UN resolution allowing action against them.

      If, for example, another country decided that white phosphorus constitutes a chemical weapon (and it is a ‘chemical’ and a ‘weapon’) then do they have the right to attack Israel and would Israel have the right to defend themselves – both using the ‘all means necessary’ clause that Cameron proposes?

      That could also go for depleted Uranium.

      Both fall between conventions but the effects are pretty terrible and seeing that it will now be a free for all regarding the UNSC – it all depends on interpretation.

    • A Social Liberal 29th Aug '13 - 9:58pm

      bcrombie

      Using your definition all weapons from muskets on are chemical weapons given that they all use a chemical reaction of one sort or another.

      White Phosphorus is used by nearly all armed forces (certainly all the ones I came into contact with) and is not considered a chemical weapon under the standard definition, Indeed, after Faluja the Hague issued an edict saying so.

    • A Social Liberal

      Oh that is alright then – mind you they are proscribed from being used on civilian areas under the Geneva Convention and why should anyone necessarily conform to what the Hague says.

      Have you ever had a phosphorus burn – I have? And all those deformed babies in Iraq after the Uranium shells?

      I am not comparing these to sarin by the way, which is another level but the ignoring of the UN is not the most sensible way to go when you and your allies are not without sin

    • @Chris true, perhaps, there is an implicit ‘as things stand now’ in the question? There are several anomalies in the answers. For example 74% supported enforcing a no fly zone in Libya but 46% think the UK should restrict itself to defending our own territory. Do 20% of respondents think Libya is part of the UK? There is obviously something wrong with many of the questions. But the final question is pretty clear and can stand alone. I think it would have been more interesting if the survey had started with a very general question and got more specific depending on previous answers.

    • A Social Liberal 29th Aug '13 - 11:27pm

      bcrombie

      Haven’t had a phosphorus burn myself but a friend in my first squadron had to dig WP out of his hand after mishandling a trip flare. What’s your point?

      As for WP being used against civilians – when enemy combatants set up stall in amongst civilians as Hamas did then armed forces are allowed to fire on them. We tend not to do it but the Americans and Israelis are a little more absolute when fighting

    • A Social Liberal

      If you get it on you it can cause death with relatively low level burns, it is excruciating even in small amounts and it has to be surgically removed.

      It is probably worse than some designated chemical weapons, but it has other uses apart from causing pain and death which possibly explains it grey nature.

      If it is dropped onto civilian areas it will cause a lot of damage to anyone that comes into contact with it. This was seen in Fallujah and Gaza

      In fact it may have been used in Syria recently but people are calling it napalm

      As a chemist I know the effects of chemicals, and despite its dual use, this can be used as a very potent anti-personnel weapon if used indiscriminately – I don’t care what the conventions say

    • A Social Liberal 30th Aug '13 - 12:16am

      The civilians in Fallujah were given ample time to leave – even once the fighting had begun troops put themselves in danger to get civilians out safely.

      And as I said, the Palestinians could and should have cleared civilians out of the front line. Instead they deliberately set up defences in amongst the population – including right against schools that were occupied

    • Defending the use of white phosphorus. Oh dear…

    • Stephen – THANKS so much for all the effort you put into all of this. I thought the questions were excellent … and allowed us to express nuanced views, on much more than Syria alone. I hope that something similar could be organized in areas such as UK defence policy, EU membership and Scottish independence. I do not see any signs of spin … more a factual reporting of results based upon the wording of the survey instrument. Thanks once again to you, and all the rest of the LDV team, for your great labours of love.

    • George Kendall 31st Aug '13 - 2:42pm

      I’d like to echo what John Innes says.

      In too many political questionnaires, the options are superficial and lacking in nuance. Too often, I haven’t a clue which option I should choose. The answers are then used to spin whatever the publisher wants to spin.

      When I saw there was a questionnaire on Syria, my heart sank, because I expected a similar lack of nuance.

      No questionnaire is perfect, as Stephen Tall found when he realised his own precise position wasn’t covered. But this was far, far better than most. I particularly liked the way we were also asked about Libya, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Iraq, which gave a context to the answers on Syria.

      So, to LDV, thank you.

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