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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls - Week Ending August 30, 2013

Week’s end finds the Obama administration out on a limb with its military threats against Syria, and despite President Obama’s enthusiastic embrace this week of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights March on Washington, Americans have a pretty sour view of race relations in this country.

U.S. voters continue to show little interest in getting involved in the civil war in Syria despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement yesterday that the United States has definite proof of the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against its opponents. Just 37% think the United States should provide increased military assistance to protect the citizens of Syria if it is confirmed that the Syrian government used chemical weapons. Forty percent (40%) are opposed.

Support and opposition are both up slightly from early in the week. The latest findings come from the night before and the night after Kerry’s announcement.

Seventy-three percent (73%) already think it is at least somewhat likely that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against its citizens, including 53% who say it is Very Likely. But voters have consistently opposed U.S. involvement in any of the so-called Arab Spring protests. Fifty percent (50%) believe U.S. involvement in Middle East politics is bad for America. 

Forty-two percent (42%) of voters now think the president is doing a good or excellent job on national security.Thirty-six percent (36%) rate him poorly for his handling of national security issues. Obama's positives in the area of national security hit a high of 54% in mid-January but by June had fallen to the low 40s, levels not seen since prior to the killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

Obama’s job approval ratings in the daily Presidential Tracking Poll remain at levels seen for much of his first term in office.  Voters have consistently felt that the president is friendlier toward big businesses than small businesses, and they now believe so more than ever.

Voters think America’s a better place since Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech 50 years ago this week, but nearly nine-out-of-10 say race relations have gotten worse or remained about the same since the election of the nation’s first black president. Sixty-nine percent (69%) think race relations in this country are better today than they were 50 years ago, but just 10% think they are better since Obama’s election. Only four percent (4%) of blacks believe those relations have gotten better since November 2008.

King preached about a day when men and women of all races would have equal opportunity in America. Only 27% of all voters think America has reached a day of equal opportunity for all. But 34% believe the federal government has done too much to promote equal opportunity in this country. Just as many (35%) say the government has done too little.

Raising the federal debt ceiling and funding the president’s national health care law will be front-burner issues when Congress returns to Washington, DC next week. Republicans tend to think a Tea Party-inspired GOP congressional threat to shut down the federal government to halt funding for the health care law will be good for their party, but other voters disagree.

Though most voters believe the Tea Party has less influence these days, 78% of Republicans believe it’s at least somewhat important for their leaders in Congress to work with the Tea Party, with 45% who think it’s Very Important.

While many voters are critical of the Tea Party itself, most continue to share its small government principles. Voters are still in agreement that tax and spending cuts help the economy, and 42% now would be more likely to vote for a candidate who promised to oppose all tax increases over one who would only raise taxes on the rich. That’s the highest level of support in over a year. Forty-one percent (41%) would vote for the one who would only raise taxes on the wealthy.

Most voters still have an unfavorable opinion of the health care law and believe it will increase the nation’s deficit and drive up health care costs.  While voters give the U.S. health care system lackluster reviews, 57% expect it to get even worse over the next couple of years as the new law is implemented. 

As of today, only 16% of adult consumers and 20% of investors believe the U.S. economy is in good or excellent shape.

However, Americans continue to be a bit more optimistic as far as the housing market is concerned. Forty-nine percent (49%) of Americans think buying a home is the best investment most families can make, down from a high of 67% in May 2009. But one-in-three (34%) say now is a good time for someone in their area to be selling a house. That’s up from 15% this time last year. 

Fifty-six percent (56%), though, expect interest rates to be higher next year at this time, the highest level of pessimism in over two years. 

Voters rate the damage done to U.S. national security by recently convicted Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning and former government contractor Edward Snowden as about even, but a sizable number remain undecided.

Republicans lead Democrats by one point on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot. The two parties have been running neck-and-neck since mid-April.

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In other surveys last week:

-- For the third straight week, 29% of Likely U.S. Voters say the country is heading in the right direction.

-- Thirty-six percent (36%) took a summer vacation this year, but 40% of those Americans say economic conditions caused them to cut back on the amount they spent on their vacation this year. 

-- While many schools are already back in session, 65% of Americans with school-age children don’t think school should start until after Labor Day

-- Forty-one percent (41%) of all adults think students should be required to wear uniforms to school. Forty-seven percent (47%) are opposed, down from 53% two years ago.

-- Eighteen states currently offer a “sales tax holiday” – a brief suspension of sales taxes – at this time of year to encourage back-to-school shopping, and 57% like the idea. 

-- Fifty percent (50%) of Americans believe movies and the movie industry have a negative impact on American society. Fifty-nine percent (59%) think violent movies lead to more violence in society. 

-- Fifty-two percent (52%) of Americans rarely or never go to the movies, but among those who do, 59% say a film’s storyline is the strongest draw. Just 19% say the cast typically determines their movie choices.

-- Fifty-six percent (56%) say their family regularly flies the U.S. flag on important holidays, and 73% don’t think anyone should be able to stop them unless it’s a public safety issue.  Americans also strongly believe school children should be required to honor the flag every morning.

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