Politics

In U.S., Fears of Terrorism After Afghanistan Pullout Subside

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Majority not concerned U.S. will be more vulnerable

PRINCETON, NJ -- A majority of Americans, 55%, now say they are not worried that withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan will make the United States more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. This is a shift from the 43% who were not worried in December 2009, when President Barack Obama announced a surge of U.S. troops in that country with a timetable for withdrawal starting in 2011.

Worries about terrorism attacks increasing in U.S. after troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

The results are based on a June 25-26 Gallup poll, conducted in the days following the president's prime-time speech in which he laid out his strategy for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Americans gave a favorable review to his new policy in general. Last week's speech was arguably the most significant policy announcement on the Afghanistan War since Obama's December 2009 address.

The drop in public concern since 2009 about possible terror attacks after the U.S. exits Afghanistan could be due to a number of causes. First, the U.S. finally succeeded in finding and killing al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, perhaps the most concrete goal of the military action. Indeed, a majority of Americans told Gallup the U.S. had accomplished its mission in Afghanistan after that event. Second, the new policy calls for a reduction, rather than an increase, in the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, which may give anti-U.S. elements in that country and elsewhere less justification for attacking the U.S. Third, Americans may be growing weary of the commitment in general and may be less concerned about possible consequences of continuing the effort.

One of the consequences of continuing the war is diverting money that could be directed to other problems -- specifically domestic ones -- the U.S. could address. This is one of the reasons President Obama gave for wanting to move forward with his timetable for withdrawal. Americans in general are sympathetic to that argument, with 67% saying they are very or somewhat worried that the cost of the war makes it more difficult for the government to address problems the United States is facing domestically.

Although high, the percentage worried about the financial implications of the war is a bit lower than what Gallup measured in December 2009 (73%), perhaps because at that time the president was announcing a build-up in U.S. forces in Afghanistan, rather than purely a reduction as is the case now.

Americans Not Confident in Afghanistan's Government to Maintain Security

The poll finds 36% of Americans saying they are very or somewhat confident that the Afghanistan government will be able to handle the responsibility of keeping the country secure after most U.S. forces are withdrawn; 59% are not confident.

This level of confidence is similar to what Gallup found in regard to the Iraqi government during the Iraq war. A January 2007 USA Today/Gallup poll found 39% of Americans confident, and 60% not confident, in the Iraqi government's ability to handle the responsibility for keeping that country secure after responsibility for security was transferred from the U.S. to Iraq.

Republicans Generally Still Wary About Terrorism Post-Afghanistan

All party groups show less concern about increased U.S. vulnerability to terrorist attacks than in December 2009, with the drop slightly greater among Republicans than Democrats or independents.

Still, a majority of Republicans, 59%, remain worried about the U.S. being more vulnerable to terrorist attacks after withdrawing from Afghanistan. That compares with 35% of Democrats and 40% of independents.

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Republicans (26%) are also less likely than Democrats (40%) and independents (39%) to express confidence in the Afghanistan government's ability to make the country secure. This attitude helps explain, in part, why Republicans are more fearful of terrorism after the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan.

Implications

Though Americans remain supportive of the war effort in Afghanistan, they appear ready to wind down the war, given the broad support for Obama's plan for withdrawal and a belief by most that the U.S. has accomplished its mission there. Though many who argue for continuing the war effort cite the possibility of increased vulnerability of the U.S. to terrorist attack as justification, a majority of Americans do not share that concern.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 25-26, 2011, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,034 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 phones 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.

The questions reported here were asked of a random half-sample of respondents for 2 nights on the Gallup Daily tracking survey.

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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