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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 12:01 AM ET, 07/22/2009

Obama Earns High Marks as Commander in Chief

President Obama is broadly viewed as a good commander in chief and earns high marks for his handling of the situation in Afghanistan, suggesting his foreign policy skills remain insulated from the heat he's begun to take on big domestic issues, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Assessing the president's performance as the country's top military officer, 56 percent say he is doing a good job, 37 percent disagree, with both numbers largely unchanged over the past three months. But Republicans have soured on Obama on this point: the percentage saying he is not a good commander in chief is up 21 points since the 100-day-mark to 76 percent. Among independents and Democrats, however, positive impressions remain high. (There are so few Republicans today that even such a big bump doesn't move the needle very much.)

Obama's prime challenges as commander in chief - the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan - both come to the forefront this week, as July has already become the deadliest month on record for the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki makes his first visit to the Obama White House today.

The prime minister will sit down with a president who is presiding over a population with a different take on the war in Iraq than they had under the previous administration. The proportion of Americans now saying the U.S. is making significant progress toward civil order in Iraq is at its highest point since the war began, although most still say the war was not worth fighting.

Overall, 61 percent say the U.S. has gained ground in Iraq, up five points since December 2008 and the highest level in Post-ABC polling since the question was first asked in June 2004. The measure reached 60 percent only one other time, just after the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2005. Just before George W. Bush ordered additional troops to Iraq in January 2007, the number of Americans seeing progress there had slipped all the way to 31 percent.

The broad sense of accomplishment that's evidenced in the new poll is boosted by a near reversal among Democrats, a majority (54 percent) of whom now say the U.S. is making progress toward order in Iraq. In December, before Obama took office, just 39 percent of Democrats said so. Positive assessments are on the rise among independents as well, 67 percent say the U.S. is making progress, up from 60 percent. Among Republicans, perceptions have moved in the opposite direction under the new administration, though most remain positive (66 percent said there is progress in the new poll, down from 82 percent).

On Afghanistan, partisan shifts are occurring below the surface of what are mostly stable overall views on the war there. Americans approve of Obama's handling of it by better than 2 to 1 (62 percent approve, 30 percent disapprove), about the same as the margin in April, and they remain about evenly divided on whether the U.S. is making progress toward achieving success in Afghanistan (46 percent say yes, 42 percent no). A slim majority (51 percent) say the war was worth fighting, down slightly since March.

There are some signs that as the troop presence grows, the public is beginning to tie the war to Obama. Among those who disapprove of the way he's handling his job in general, the proportion who say the U.S. is making significant progress in Afghanistan has dropped from 58 percent in March to 45 percent now. While among those who say he is doing a good job that figure has climbed from 40 percent to 46 percent.

There are similar, smaller partisan shifts on the question as well: among Democrats 45 percent say success is getting closer, up from 39 percent, while among Republicans it's fallen from 60 percent to 50 percent.

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  12:01 AM ET, 07/22/2009

Categories:  Post Polls

 
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