By Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sixty percent of Americans support the U.S. and allied military action in Libya to impose a no-fly zone to protect civilians from forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Thursday found.
Of those polled, 48 percent described President Barack Obama's military leadership as U.S. commander in chief as "cautious and consultative," 36 percent as "indecisive and dithering," and 17 percent as "strong and decisive" in a question that offered only those three choices.
The poll was taken three days after the U.S.-led bombing campaign against Libya was launched last Saturday.
Seventy-nine percent of those surveyed said the United States and its allies should try to remove Libyan leader Gaddafi, who has ruled the oil-exporting North African country for more than four decades.
This finding was similar to a CNN poll released on Tuesday, which found 77 percent of those questioned said it was very important or somewhat important to remove Gaddafi from power.
In the Reuters/Ipsos survey, only 7 percent supported deploying ground troops.
The survey showed 60 percent in favor of the Libya military action, with 20 percent strongly supporting it and 40 percent somewhat supporting it. Twenty-five percent somewhat opposed it and 14 percent were strongly against.
The survey was conducted on March 22 of a nationally representative sample of 975 adults.
The survey suggested Americans may see Obama, a Democrat, in a very different light from his predecessor, George W. Bush, a Republican who launched the Afghanistan and Iraq wars with some allies but was widely seen as a go-it-alone leader.
"The data suggest he is perceived to be more consultative in his approach, which may distinguish him in the minds of the American public from his predecessor, George W. Bush, who was not perceived to be," said Ipsos Public Affairs Director Julia Clark, adding that the responses broke along political lines.
Sixty-three percent of Democrats selected "cautious and consultative" as adjectives to best describe Obama's leadership while 64 of Republicans chose "indecisive and dithering."
Obama secured U.N. Security Council sanction as well as Arab support before beginning the military operation, whose objective is to protect civilians rather than to oust Gaddafi, the latest authoritarian Arab leader to face mass protests.
"NO TOLERANCE" FOR GROUND TROOPS
Demonstrators toppled Tunisian strongman Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali in January and vast street protests in Cairo -- ultimately backed by the army -- unseated Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February after three decades in power.
Clark said she was surprised by the strong majority -- 79 percent -- favoring removing Gaddafi from power, particularly at a time when the United States is gradually winding down the war in Iraq and still heavily deployed in Afghanistan.
"That's pretty overwhelming," she said, but noted support for the use of U.S. ground troops in Libya is minimal.
Asked what should be done if the current air strikes fail to restrain Gaddafi, only 7 percent favored sending in U.S. and allied ground troops, 20 percent deploying special forces troops, 25 percent using U.N. peacekeepers and 23 percent advocating increased air strikes. Those surveyed were allowed to select more than one option in response to this question.
Fifteen percent favored none of these options and 29 percent said they did not know what action should be taken.
"Everybody thinks Gaddafi needs to go but there is absolutely no tolerance for the idea of sending in ground troops," Clark said, citing U.S. fatigue with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. "The idea of entering a third conflict like that garners very, very little support."
(Editing by Will Dunham)