Afghan War Edges Out Iraq as Most Important for U.S.

by Frank Newport

Two-thirds say U.S. involvement in Afghanistan not a mistake

PRINCETON, NJ -- By a slim margin, Americans say the war in Afghanistan is more important for the United States than is the conflict in Iraq.

This question was asked for the first time in the July 25-27 USA Today/Gallup poll, so there is no historical record of changes over time -- if any -- in the public's views of the relative importance of these two wars.

President George W. Bush in essence began both wars, sending U.S. troops into Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, and into Iraq in March 2003. Faced with this choice between the two, however, Republicans tilt toward saying the Iraq conflict is more important. Independents and Democrats say the Afghan war is more important.

These results reinforce the conclusion that the Iraq war has been the more politicized (and controversial) of the two wars.

Support for the War in Afghanistan

Americans appear to strongly support the initial decision to go to war in Afghanistan, based on responses to Gallup's classic "mistake" question (which has been asked about U.S. conflicts since the Korean War in the early 1950s). Two-thirds (68%) affirm the basis for sending military forces to Afghanistan, saying it was not a mistake.

Support for U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan decreased between 2002 and 2004, but has remained fairly constant since that point.

The poll showing two-thirds of Americans who say the war in Afghanistan was not a mistake can be contrasted to polling in recent years showing that the majority of Americans have consistently said the war in Iraq was a mistake.

There is a significant difference in the way the three partisan groups respond to this question, although less than half of any group says the Afghanistan intervention was a mistake.

There has been a good deal of negative publicity about the way things are going for the United States in Afghanistan in recent months, but the current poll shows only a slight increase in the percentage of Americans who say things are going badly there. In general, views of the way the war is going are split.

Deploy More Troops in Afghanistan?

Should the United States send additional troops to Afghanistan, as has been advocated by some? The answer is a clear "yes" in the context of using those troops to combat terrorists.

The weekend poll included a question in which a random half of respondents were asked whether they favored or opposed sending additional U.S. troops "from Iraq" to Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda and Taliban terrorist operations. The other half were asked about sending U.S. troops to fight terrorists, but with no mention of where those troops would come from.

The results show that it makes little difference whether the "from Iraq" clause is included in the question wording; a majority favors sending additional troops in either circumstance. There has been little change in these responses since last summer.

There are interesting differences by party in response to this question about sending in more troops. Republicans are more in favor of sending in troops when there is no mention of "from Iraq." Democrats are more in favor with the "from Iraq" inclusion. This result follows from the evidence reviewed here, which shows that Democrats feel the war in Afghanistan is more important than the war in Iraq, while Republicans say the opposite. Republicans favor sending more troops to Afghanistan regardless, but a little less so if it means taking them away from Iraq. Democrats are more likely to approve of moving troops to Afghanistan if they come from Iraq.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,007 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted July 25-27, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the 506 national adults in the Form A half-sample and 501 national adults in the Form B half-sample, the maximum margins of sampling error are ±5 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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