Fall 2015 Articles, Foreign Policy, Middle East and North Africa, Politics, War

State students ambivalent about sending U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS

On December 6, 2015, President Obama gave a rare presidential address to the country from the Oval Office. His talk was aimed at explaining the administration’s policy for dealing with ISIS, in addition to appealing for religious tolerance. ISIS has been responsible for multiple terrorist attacks, the most recent being Paris.

France and Russia, both of which sit on the U.N. Security Council, are currently bombing ISIS targets. President Obama, though, said he is against the idea of sending U.S. ground troops to troops in Syria and Iraq to fight the Islamic State. NC State students are ambivalent about that possibility. The week prior to Obama’s address, PackPoll asked them if they favored or opposed sending U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS. Slightly more oppose (37%) than favor (35%) sending US troops to the region, and another 28% said they didn’t have an opinion.

Ground Troops

These results are very different from national polls of adults. First, we find that nearly three in ten students lack an opinion, even on this highly prominent issue. Most adults appear to have an opinion. An early November poll by Gallup, conducted roughly a week before the tragedy in Paris, found less than 5% saying “no opinion.” The real difference between students and adults could be smaller, though, since PackPoll made the “no opinion” answer option overt while most pollsters accept that answer but don’t tell respondents it is OK to express it.

Second, that same Gallup poll found slightly more than half (53%) of adults were opposed to the idea of sending ground troops to fight ISIS. The Gallup survey replicated the same results observed a year before, in September 2014. Yet, if adults are being encouraged to give an answer, that will necessarily inflate the percentage of those either supporting the policy, opposing, or both. Nevertheless, another poll conducted by NBC after Paris found that 65% of Americans now support sending ground troops. Students, it appears, are slightly more dovish than adults.


The survey took place over the internet Nov 18-19, 2015. We drew a random sample of 3,500 undergraduate students, and supplemented that with a random sample of 538 additional black students. We over-sampled black students to make our comparisons with white students’ answers more reliable. Thus, 4,038 State students were invited to take the survey, and 1038 completed it, resulting in a 26% response rate.

Although self-ideintifed black students are 7% of the undergraduate student body, they were 21% of our sample. When we describe what a representative sample of what all State students think, we apply a post-stratification weight to adjust for imbalance of respondents’ race. For the sample as a whole, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.98%. The sampling error is larger for estimates of sub-groups’ opinions, or when we split the sample to ask slightly different version of a question.

In addition to sampling error, other forms of error occur in surveys, such as confusion about question wording or the order of questions, but these are not precisely quantifiable. We do not apply post-stratification sample weights to adjust for possible demographic imbalances in our sample because our measured demographics closely approximate the known student parameters for age, year in school, and gender. Weighting the data would be unlikely to change the reported results by more than 1-2% percentage points for any question results.

Click here to see the full set of results: Toplines Nov Race Poll

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