Politics

Americans Tilt Against Sending More Troops to Afghanistan

by Frank Newport

Most who oppose also advocate that the U.S. begin to withdraw troops

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are more likely to say they would oppose (50%) rather than favor (41%) a possible decision by President Barack Obama to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

Views on a Possible Decision by President Obama to Send More Troops to Afghanistan

The possibility that Obama will need to make a decision on U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan has increased in recent weeks, amid reports that the senior American military commander in Afghanistan -- Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal -- is preparing to deliver a formal request for additional troops in Afghanistan, perhaps by the end of this week.

"The data indicate that Republicans do seem willing to support Obama should he make a decision to increase U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan. On the other hand, Democrats seem willing to oppose Obama in this case."

This follows the recent news leak of McChrystal's assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, including his conclusion that more troops are needed in order to avoid failure in the war. Queried about the possibility of increasing U.S. forces in Afghanistan, President Obama said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he will "have to ask some very hard questions anytime I send our troops in."

Questions on Afghanistan were included in Gallup's Sept. 22-23 Daily tracking, and were focused on the public's reaction if Obama does make a decision to send more troops to Afghanistan at some point in the near future.

The 50% of Americans who oppose a troop increase were asked whether they favored keeping troops at the current level, or whether they favored beginning a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. By an overwhelming 82% to 14% margin, those opposed to a troop increase say they favor withdrawal over keeping the status quo.

This leaves the overall disposition of Americans on the issue of troops in Afghanistan that is seen in the accompanying graph. Notably, as many Americans overall favor withdrawing troops from the country (41%) as favor increasing troop levels (41%).

Support for/Opposition to Sending More Troops to Afghanistan, and Support for Troop Withdrawal

The Afghanistan situation creates an unusual set of political cross-currents. A Republican president (George W. Bush) initiated the movement of U.S. troops to Afghanistan in 2001, and Republicans in general have been more supportive than Democrats of the Afghanistan war. If Obama does make a decision to send more troops, Republicans would be faced with the prospect of supporting a Democratic president's decision to initiate a policy they favor, while Democrats who oppose further escalation in Afghanistan would be faced with going against a president representing their own party.

The data indicate that Republicans do seem willing to support Obama should he make a decision to increase U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan. On the other hand, Democrats seem willing to oppose Obama in this case. Independents are also on the opposition side of the ledger.

Views on Sending More U.S. Troops to Afghanistan, by Party ID

Bottom Line

President Obama will by all accounts face a difficult choice regarding Afghanistan in the weeks ahead.

Gen. McChrystal -- whom Obama's administration appointed to Afghanistan earlier this year -- has already indicated that he is likely to request more troops for that country. Should Obama turn down such a request, he risks the ire of Republicans and others who will most likely argue that he is ignoring the wishes of his commanders on the ground, and making a mistake that could result in an increased risk of terrorism, among other things. Should he agree to order more troops, he will go against the wishes of the broad U.S. population -- and, in particular, the rank-and-file of his own party, which at the moment is more opposed to than in favor of such an action.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,053 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 22-23, 2009, as part of Gallup Daily tracking. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones and cellular phones.

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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