Americans More Positive on Afghanistan After Bin Laden Death

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Slim majority now say things are going well for the U.S. there

PRINCETON, NJ -- After the death of Osama bin Laden, a slim majority of Americans now say things are going well for the United States in Afghanistan, a four-percentage-point increase from late March. This marks the first time in nearly two years that the majority has held this view, and only the second time since Gallup began tracking these opinions on the war in 2006.

2006-2011 Trend: In general, how would you say things are going for the U.S. in Afghanistan?

Republicans and Democrats view U.S. progress similarly, with 55% of each group saying things are going well for the United States in Afghanistan in the May 5-8 USA Today/Gallup poll. That marks a shift from March, when Republicans were much more positive. Both groups are more positive than independents, 45% of whom think things are going well for the U.S.

In addition to their somewhat more positive overall assessment of U.S. progress in the war, Americans also are a bit more supportive of the war effort in general than they were before bin Laden's death. Now, 58% say the United States did not make a mistake in sending troops to Afghanistan, up from 53% in late March.

But bin Laden's demise has not dramatically transformed Americans' support for the war, which more broadly remains on the lower end of what Gallup has measured since the war began in 2001.

2001-2011 Trend: Thinking now about U.S. military action in Afghanistan that began in October 2001, do you think the United States made a mistake in sending military forces to Afghanistan, or not?

Republicans are more supportive of the war effort in general. Currently, 69% of Republicans, 54% of independents, and 52% of Democrats say the United States did not make a mistake in sending troops to Afghanistan.

Majority Believes U.S. Has Accomplished Its Mission in Afghanistan

Although a majority says the war was not a mistake, the public seems more inclined to end it rather than keep it going. Gallup finds 59% of Americans saying the U.S. "has accomplished its mission" and "should bring its troops home," while 36% say the U.S. "still has important work to do in Afghanistan and should maintain its troops there."

Republicans are divided in their views of whether the U.S. has fulfilled its mission in Afghanistan or still has work to do. Independents and Democrats, by 2-to-1 margins, believe the U.S. has finished its work in Afghanistan and should bring its troops home.

Which comes closer to your view -- the U.S. has accomplished its mission in Afghanistan and should bring its troops home, or the U.S. still has important work to do in Afghanistan and should maintain its troops there? May 2011

The same question was asked the night after bin Laden's death, in a survey focused largely on that event rather than the war in Afghanistan more broadly. That poll showed Americans leaning more toward saying the U.S. still has important work to do in Afghanistan. It is not clear whether that result was affected by the euphoria surrounding bin Laden's capture, with the current poll perhaps showing that Americans have returned to a more sober assessment of the war. Americans have generally supported proposals calling for removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan since President Obama announced his policy on the war in late 2009.

Bin Laden's Death One of the Most Closely Followed News Events

With details of the U.S. military operation that resulted in bin Laden's death still coming out, Gallup asked Americans how closely they are following the news about the event. Forty-two percent say they are following it very closely and another 41% somewhat closely.

The combined 83% who are following the story at least somewhat closely ranks in the top 15 out of 206 news stories for which Gallup has used this measure since 1991.

Highest Percentage Who Are Following News Events, Gallup Polls, 1991-2011


Bin Laden's death captured Americans' attention, but has not led to a dramatically different evaluation of the war in Afghanistan. Americans are now more positive about U.S. progress than they have been in some time and support the war at higher levels than before bin Laden's death. At the same time, most Americans seem ready to end U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 5-8, 2011, with a random sample of 1,018 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

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 landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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