More say fight against ISIS going well, but terror concerns linger

Americans feel more positive about the fight against ISIS than they have since 2014, according to a new ...

Posted: Dec. 23, 2017 2:00 PM
Updated: Dec. 23, 2017 2:00 PM

Americans feel more positive about the fight against ISIS than they have since 2014, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, marking a rare public opinion win for Donald Trump's policies, while worries about terrorism, divisions on U.S. policy toward Israel and broad support for allowing transgender people to serve in the military suggest looming challenges for the administration in the coming year.

Related: Full poll results

49% say U.S. should not move embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, 36% say move it

Almost three-quarters say transgender people should be allowed to serve in the US military

Sharp partisan shifts in concern over terrorism, view of fight against ISIS

ISIS and Terrorism

More than 6 in 10 Americans say the US military action against ISIS is going well, the most positive assessment of the campaign since the US began airstrikes against the terrorist group in Syria in fall of 2014, and a sharp improvement since spring of last year, when 45% said things were going well.

The shift rests on increasingly positive reviews from independents and Republicans. Among Republicans, 78% say it's going well, up from 28% who said so in spring 2016, when the US efforts were still led by Democratic President Barack Obama. Independents have gone from 43% saying things are going well to 63% now. Among Democrats, opinions have shifted in the opposite direction. While 61% said things were going well in 2016, that stands at 50% now.

The poll was conducted shortly after Iraq's prime minister declared victory over ISIS in that country, but as tensions flared between the US and Russia over the conflict with ISIS in Syria.

It also followed an attempted terrorist attack in the New York City subway system, and found public concern about terrorist attacks here in the US remains notably high. Seventy percent of Americans say further acts of terrorism in the US in the next several weeks are very or somewhat likely, with the 28% who see such attacks as "very likely" -- the highest level to say so since fall of 2001. In June 2016, following the attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, 71% said they saw further attacks as likely, but the share who reported they were "very likely" stood at 24%. That 71% mark was the highest in CNN polling dating back to 2003.

The steadiness of those overall numbers between last spring and now masks partisan shifts beneath the surface, as Americans seem less likely to anticipate terrorist attacks in the US when the president is from their preferred party. In June 2016, 60% of Democrats said further acts of terrorism were likely after the Pulse shooting, but 73% say so now. Among Republicans, 84% expected further terrorism in 2016 while 64% do now. Among independents, the figure is exactly the same now as it was last year: 72% call further attacks likely.

President Donald Trump's approval rating for handling terrorism stands at 42%, with 51% saying they disapprove of his handling of the issue.

Moving the US embassy in Israel

Americans are divided over Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (44% approve, 45% disapprove) and 49% say the U.S. embassy there should not be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, while fewer, 36%, support the move.

Views on both of these questions are divided along party lines. Among Republicans, 79% approve of Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and 66% favor moving the embassy there. Among Democrats, however, 71% take the opposite position on each question.

The United Nations voted overwhelmingly to condemn the U.S. decision yesterday, as US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley defended the decision, saying "That is what the American people want us to do and it is the right thing to do," but the poll findings suggest otherwise.

Two-thirds of Americans say the US shouldn't take the side of either Israel or Palestine in the Middle East conflict, but those who do favor a side almost all lean toward Israel (24% vs. 2%). That tilt holds across party lines -- Republicans prefer taking Israel's side 48% to 2%, while among Democrats it's a far smaller 12% to 2% margin -- with Democrats much more apt to say the US should be neutral (78% vs. 70% of independents and 44% of Republicans).

Most Americans (56%) doubt that a time will come when Israel and the Arab nations will be able to settle their differences and live in peace, while 39% think that will happen.

Transgender troops

Almost three-quarters of Americans say people who are transgender should be allowed to serve in the US military -- 73% say they should, 22% that they should not. Support for allowing transgender troops to serve is higher among Democrats (90%) than independents (75%) or Republicans (48%), and higher among younger Americans (78% among those under age 45 vs. 70% among those age 45 or older).

The Pentagon plans to begin admitting qualified transgender applicants beginning on January 1, in keeping with a court order, despite President Donald Trump's memorandum directing the secretary of defense to bar transgender Americans from military service. The Department of Justice, however, is challenging the order in courts.

The CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS December 14-17 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults reached on landlines or cellphones by a live interviewer. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points, it is larger for subgroups.

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