Half or more of U.S. public supports Obama on Libya

WASHINGTON Tue Mar 22, 2011 2:30pm EDT

President Obama leads a briefing on the current situation in Libya, with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon (L) aboard Air Force One, during a secure conference call on the flight from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Santiago, Chile, March 21, 2011. REUTERS/Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Obama leads a briefing on the current situation in Libya, with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon (L) aboard Air Force One, during a secure conference call on the flight from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Santiago, Chile, March 21, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - At least half the U.S. public approves of President Barack Obama's military action in Libya, despite growing criticism from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress, recent polling finds.

A CBS News poll released on Tuesday said just 29 percent of Americans disapprove of Obama's handling of the situation in Libya, where a U.S.-led air and naval force has established a no-fly zone over much of the country.

Exactly half of the 1,022 adults polled by CBS approved of Obama's actions while 1-in-5 Americans had no opinion.

That compares with 70 percent approval for U.S. military action in a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp poll that put the opposition at 27 percent.

CBS said Obama's overall approval rating was at 49 percent, with 41 disapproval, similar to last month. His approval margins have hovered in the mid-to-high 40s for the past year.

In both cases, polling began last Friday, a day after the U.N. Security Council authorized military action against the Libyan government, and continued through the commencement of hostilities on Saturday.

CNN, which released its poll on Monday, said there was no indication the actual attacks had changed public opinion over the course of the weekend.

The results coincide with growing criticism of Obama by Republicans in Congress, who say the president should have consulted more closely with lawmakers before initiating the operation code-named "Odyssey Dawn."

Some lawmakers, including liberal Democrats, worry that the international community will press the United States into leading a wider campaign over time, despite assurances from Obama that the operation's focus is narrow and that the U.S. military will soon relinquish command.

CBS found that 43 percent of Republicans approve of how Obama is handling the crisis in Libya, while 41 percent disapprove. A majority of 66 percent of Democratic voters also approve, along with 43 percent of independents.

While some in Congress feel Obama has done too much, others criticize him for not doing enough. Republican Senator John McCain, who says the United States should have acted sooner, is now calling on the administration to help arm and train Libyan rebels fighting to end Gaddafi's 41-year rule.

The CNN survey shows public support falling to 54 percent on the question of military action against Libyan government ground forces, while only 34 percent of Americans think it "very important" to remove Gaddafi from power.

Both the CBS and CNN surveys have a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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