Afghanistan Withdrawal Polling

[ Posted Tuesday, June 28th, 2011 – 17:03 UTC ]

Some poll numbers are starting to come in on President Obama's announced withdrawal plans for American troops in Afghanistan. Overall, the polling shows public support is about as high as could be expected, given the fact that the opposition to Obama's plan is split between "pull more out faster" and "pull the troops out slower."

The first poll numbers were reported by The Hill. From their article:

Thirty-nine percent of likely voters feel that the pace of withdrawal outlined by Obama is "about right," the poll found.

But sizeable minorities disagree. Thirty percent believe the scheduled withdrawal is not fast enough, while 28 percent believe American troops are being pulled out too hastily.

The second poll was a Pew/Washington Post poll, which was reported on in the Washington Post. From their article:

A new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll finds a 44 percent plurality of Americans say Obama is handling the drawdown from the Afghanistan war "about right." Roughly three in 10 (29 percent) say he is not withdrawing quickly enough and 14 percent say he is moving too quickly. The survey was conducted after Obama's primetime address last Wednesday detailing his plan to bring home 10,000 troops by the end of the year and 23,000 more by next summer. More than seven in 10 adults in a Post-ABC poll earlier this month supported removing a substantial number of troops this summer, but fewer -- 43 percent -- said they thought it would actually happen.

The biggest disparity between the two was on the "too quickly" numbers. While the two polls largely agree (within an acceptable margin of error) on "about right" and "too slowly," the Hill poll was double the Pew poll on "too quickly" -- perhaps due to the way the question was worded, or due to not accepting "I don't know" type answers (I should point out that I am merely speculating here, I have no data which show why this difference is so large).

But both polls show that a plurality of the public approves of Obama's withdrawal plans for Afghanistan. It gets even more interesting in the breakdown numbers. From The Hill again:

Views of Afghanistan do not break down along clear party or ideological lines. The proportion of self-described Republicans and Democrats who believe Obama’s withdrawal plan is too sluggish is strikingly similar -- 23 percent and 27 percent respectively.

Likewise, almost one in three self-described conservatives, or 32 percent, feel the withdrawal pace is too slow, a figure that outpaces the number of liberals (30 percent) who feel the same way.

The Washington Post numbers broke down in similar surprising fashion. From their article:

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say the war has been worth fighting, a consistent trend in Post-ABC polling since 2007. But while 62 percent of Republicans supported Obama's 30,000 troop surge in late 2010, just 28 percent in the same poll approved of how Obama was handling the war itself. Indeed, more Republicans have disapproved than approved of Obama on Afghanistan both before and after the surge was announced. In the new Post-Pew survey, 25 percent of Republicans say Obama's approach to withdrawing troops is "about right," but opposition now comes from both hawkish and dovish corners of the GOP -- 28 percent say he's withdrawing too quickly while 32 percent say he's not removing troops quickly enough.

Democrats, by contrast, have given Obama consistent support on Afghanistan even as they opposed the substance of his policies and judged the war as not worth its costs. Even before Obama was elected, majorities of Democrats said the Afghan war was not worth fighting, and his own partisans split 48 to 49 percent over supporting the proposed troop surge in a December 2010 poll. Still, Obama's approval for handling Afghanistan has never fallen below 60 percent among Democrats since he entered office, and stands at 71 percent in the most recent Post-ABC News poll. In the new Post-Pew survey following his primetime speech last week, 66 percent of Democrats say his approach is "about right" while 21 percent prefer an even quicker withdrawal.

They also provide the following breakdown numbers by partisan affiliation:

Obama will remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan...
[Too quickly / Not quickly enough / About right]
14 / 29 / 44 -- All adults
 5 / 21 / 66 -- Democrats
28 / 32 / 25 -- Republicans
16 / 33 / 40 -- Independents

We can draw a few conclusions from all of this. Democrats overwhelmingly support the president's withdrawal plans. Republicans are split three ways on the question, with slightly more wanting a faster withdrawal than those wanting a slower withdrawal. Independents lean towards Obama more strongly, but they also charted the top number in the "not quickly enough" category.

Are Republicans more "dovish" than Democrats? Or perhaps more Democrats back the president, even if they would like to see the troops out faster?

Obviously, if Obama had devised his troop withdrawal plan to boost the poll numbers (which he has indeed been accused of), he would have done better to pull more troops out earlier. The fact that he didn't bow to popular pressure on this shows he has more concerns than just his own popularity on the issue -- as he should have, being president.

While the "about right" numbers are not a majority of the public, it was the most popular answer of the three in both polls. The American public seems to be giving Obama more of the benefit of the doubt on Afghanistan than the pundits on either the Left or the Right have been giving them credit for. As the soldiers actually start coming home, and as tens of thousands of troops also come home from Iraq later this year, the public will likely give even more support to the president as he winds down the two wars he inherited.


-- Chris Weigant

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


4 Comments on “Afghanistan Withdrawal Polling”

  1. [1] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    Chris, I don't think Republicans are being "dovish" unless the word means "opposed to wars when George Bush is not president."

  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Matt -

    I have to tell you, it was strange indeed to write a sentence with "dovish" and "Republicans" in it...


  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Chris and Matt,

    Perhaps there is a growing shift in the Republican party and amongst Republican voters. It's something to think about, at least.

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:


    Chris, I don't think Republicans are being "dovish" unless the word means "opposed to wars when George Bush is not president."

    Much the same as Democrats don't mind war if a Democrat is president.

    Where is Code Pink?? Where is

    Probably accepting their HOTC awards....


    The only question that really and truly matters is, did Obama listen to the generals on the ground or not?

    It's clear he did not..

    The voters will remember that on election day if Afghanistan goes very bad.

    Given current events, that is the likely outcome.


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