Few Express Confidence in Lasting Results From Thursday’s Election
By Jennifer Agiesta and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 19, 2009 4:58 PM
A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Most have confidence in the ability of the United States to meet its primary goals — defeating the Taliban, facilitating effective economic development and molding an honest and effective Afghan government — but very few say Thursday’s elections there are likely to produce such a government.
When it comes to the baseline question, 42 percent of Americans say the U.S. is winning in Afghanistan; about as many, 36 percent, say it is losing the fight.
The new poll comes amid widespread speculation that the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, will request more troops for his stepped-up effort to root the Taliban from Afghan towns and villages. That is a position that gets the backing of 24 percent of those polled, while nearly twice as many, 45 percent, want to decrease the number of military forces there. (Most of the remainder say to keep the level about the same.)
In January, before President Obama authorized sending an additional 17,000 troops to the country, public sentiment tilted more strongly toward a troop increase.
Should President Obama embrace his general’s call for even more U.S. military forces, he risks alienating some of his staunchest supporters While 60 percent of all Americans approve of how Obama has handled the situation in Afghanistan, his ratings among liberals have slipped and majorities of liberals and Democrats alike now, for the first time, solidly oppose the war and are calling for a reduction in troops.
Overall, seven in 10 Democrats say the war has not been worth its costs, and fewer than one in five support an increase in troop levels. Nearly two-thirds of the most committed Democrats now feel “strongly” that the war was not worth fighting. Among moderate and conservative Democrats, a slim majority say the United States is losing in Afghanistan.
Republicans (70 percent say it is worth fighting) and conservatives (58 percent) remain the war’s strongest backers, and the issue provides a rare point of GOP support for Obama’s policies. A narrow majority of conservatives approve of Obama’s handling of the war (52 percent), as do more than four in 10 Republicans (43 percent).
Among all adults, 51 percent now say the war is not worth fighting, up six points since last month and four points above the previous high, reached in February. Less than half, 47 percent, say the war is worth its costs. Those strongly opposed (41 percent) outweigh strong proponents (31 percent).
Opposition to the Iraq war reached similar levels in the summer of 2004 and deteriorated further, through the 2006 midterm elections, becoming issue No. 1 in many congressional races that year.
By the time support for the Iraq war had fallen below 50 percent, disapproval of President George W. Bush’s handling of it had climbed to 55 percent, in contrast to Obama’s solid overall approval on dealing with Afghanistan.
But there are warning signs for the president.
Among liberals, his rating on handling the war, which he calls one of “necessity,” has fallen swiftly, with strong approval cratering by 20 points. Nearly two-thirds of liberals stand against a troop increase, as do about six in 10 Democrats.
On the GOP side, views are more evenly distributed, as Republicans divide about equally in support of an increase, a decrease and no change to troop levels.
Partisan divisions on the handling of the war itself are tempered when it comes to faith in the ability of the United States and its allies to get the job done in Afghanistan. Broad majorities across party lines say they are confident the U.S. will defeat the Taliban and succeed in spurring economic development.
Independents express slightly less confidence on these issues, and less than half of independents (46 percent) say they are confident that the United States can encourage an honest and effective Afghan government. Overall, 55 percent are confident that the United States could help establish an honest and effective government.
Far fewer, 34 percent, say the country’s national election will result in an effective government, with just 3 percent “very confident.”
Beyond ideological and partisan divisions on the war, women have shifted against the war more sharply than men and are far more apt to say troop levels should be decreased (51 percent) than are men (38 percent). Nearly six in 10 women say the war was not worth fighting, up from just under half last month.
The Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone Aug. 13-17 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults including users of both conventional and cellular phones. Results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points; it is higher among subgroups.