Americans Split on Whether Goals in Afghanistan Will Be Met

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Forty-eight percent say the U.S. is certain or likely to meet its goals

PRINCETON, NJ -- The unveiling of President Obama's new military strategy for Afghanistan has not left Americans overly confident that it will succeed -- 48% say the U.S. is certain or likely to achieve its goals in the war, while 45% say the U.S. is unlikely to do so or is certain not to achieve its aims.

Do You Think the United States Is Certain, Likely, Not Likely, or Likely NOT to Achieve Its Goals in Afghanistan?

These results are based on a one-night reaction poll of 1,000 Americans conducted Dec. 2, the night after Obama's nationally televised address to unveil the new war strategy. The poll found Americans more likely to favor (51%) than oppose (40%) the new strategy.

There are a significant number of doubters even among those who support the new war policy. Among this group, 61% believe the U.S. is likely to achieve its goals, but 35% are pessimistic. Likewise, though the majority of the new policy's opponents do not expect the U.S. to achieve its goals in Afghanistan, that is far from a unanimous position.

Perceptions of U.S. Ability to Achieve Goals in Afghanistan, by Support for New War Policy

There are modest differences in expectations for success by party, with 56% of Republicans, 47% of independents, and 45% of Democrats believing the U.S. will achieve its goals.

Cost and Security Concerns

Some opponents of escalating the United States' involvement in Afghanistan are questioning the increasing costs to the U.S. of the war effort. And many Americans share this concern, at least to some degree. The poll finds 73% saying they are worried about the war's costs making it more difficult for the U.S. to address domestic problems, including 32% who are very worried.

How Worried Are You That the Costs of the War in Afghanistan Will Make It More Difficult for the Government to Address the Problems Facing the United States at Home?

"Even if a substantial proportion of Americans doubt the United States' ability to succeed in Afghanistan or express concern about possible outcomes of the new war policy, the public generally does not second-guess the initial decision to enter the war."

Some Democratic members of Congress have called for a new income tax to help fund the increased cost of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan brought about by the decision to send an additional 30,000 service men and women there. However, the top two Democrats in Congress, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, have come out in opposition to such a tax, making its passage highly unlikely. It would appear Pelosi and Hoyer are in tune with American public opinion; the poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly oppose a war surtax, by 68% to 24%.

While much of the Democratic criticism of the new Afghanistan policy has centered on cost, Republicans have expressed concern about setting a timetable for withdrawal. The poll finds 55% of Americans saying they are concerned that withdrawing troops from Afghanistan would make the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, including 19% who are very concerned.

How Worried Are You That Withdrawing U.S. Troops From Afghanistan Will Make the United States More Vulnerable to Terrorist Attacks?

In line with the concerns of their party leaders, rank-and-file Democrats are more concerned about the war's costs limiting the United States' ability to address domestic problems, while rank-and-file Republicans are more concerned that withdrawing troops could affect U.S. security from terrorism.

Worry About Afghanistan War Policy's Effects, by Party

Even if a substantial proportion of Americans doubt the United States' ability to succeed in Afghanistan or express concern about possible outcomes of the new war policy, the public generally does not second-guess the initial decision to enter the war. The poll finds 62% saying that, looking back, sending troops to Afghanistan was the right thing to do, while 32% say it was the wrong thing. This is similar to what Gallup has found on its primary "mistake" trend question that measures support for the war.

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Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,005 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 2, 2009. 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.

Polls conducted entirely in one day, such as this one, are subject to additional error or bias not found in polls conducted over several days.

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