A woman with her face painted in the colours of the Kingdom of Libya flag attends a protest against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi near the court house in Benghazi June 29, 2011. The word on her forehead reads, "Leave". REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori
OTTAWA -- A plurality of Canadians think the NATO mission in Libya is going badly, and Canadians are split on whether NATO should be there at all, a new survey has found.
The Abacus Data national poll, conducted last week, found 41% of Canadians think NATO is right to conduct military operations in Libya, while 33% think it's the wrong thing to do. Thirty-eight percent of those polled believe the mission is going badly, compared to 31% who feel it's going well.
What surprised pollster David Coletto the most, though, is how many Canadians are unsure of whether the mission is right (25%), or how it's going (29%).
"A large portion of the public is not paying attention to what is happening in Libya "¦ And it's not just disengaged young people who aren't paying attention, it's a large number of Canadians of all ages from across the country," said Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data. "If something bad were to happen to Canadian Forces over there, there is a potential for this mild approval to turn sour."
Coletto said he mirrored his poll to an identical one recently in Britain, which found respondents there are far more cynical about the mission.
Older men (51%), Conservative voters (58%), and Atlantic and western Canadians (51% and 43%, respectively) are more likely to support the mission, while Quebecers (37%) are the least likely.
Liberal voters are the least supportive along political lines, with 43% opposed to the NATO mission compared to 25% of Conservatives and 34% of New Democrats. NDP voters, in fact, are split on the issue, with 38% of them in favour of the mission.
"The traditional view of NDP supporters being pacifists and opposed to all military action all the time is no longer the case. This is not the same NDP support base that it once was," Coletto said. "The division along party lines was surprising."
Liberals are most likely to think the mission is going badly (52%), compared to Conservatives (28%) and the NDP (44%).
Since March, NATO allies -- including Canada -- have been enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya and arms embargo, following a United Nations resolution to protect Libyan civilians from Moammar Gadhafi and forces loyal to him.
Gadhafi began brutally suppressing uprisings in Libya after similar demonstrations toppled governments in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.
Canada has committed six CF-18s to the NATO mission, as well as two air-to-air refuelling aircraft and more than 500 Canadian Forces personnel, and a Canadian general is in charge of the allied force.
In addition to the planes, the Canadian multi-role patrol frigate HMCS Charlottetown and two CP-140 Aurora aircraft -- former Cold War sub-hunters -- are enforcing the arms embargo against Libya on the Mediterranean.
Earlier this month, Parliament voted almost unanimously -- only Green Party Leader Elizabeth May dissented -- to extend the mission until September, and boost financial aid and recognize the Libyan rebels as the legitimate representatives of the people.
Gadhafi has ruled over Libya for more than 40 years. He seized power in a military coup.
The online survey of 1,005 Canadians was conducted between June 23 and 24 and is accurate to within 3.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.