More see success in Afghanistan; half still want U.S. troops home

May 3, 2011

The number of Americans who see success ahead in Afghanistan has spiked since Osama bin Laden was killed Sunday in Pakistan, but few see the news as an end to the threat of terrorism facing the United States, according to a new poll by The Washington Post and the Pew Research Center.

Nearly seven in 10 see the U.S. killing of bin Laden as a boost to the long-term security of the country, but barely one in five sees it as a big help. Just five percent say bin Laden’s death ends the terrorism threat in general; 85 percent see further military action as necessary.

At the same time, there’s been a large increase in the number of Americans who say they expect United States will be successful in achieving its goals in Afghanistan. In the new poll, 64 percent expect success, up from 49 percent in a December Pew poll. On this question there have been double-digit increases across party lines.

Nearly half of all Americans — 46 percent — say they’re more confident in the U.S. mission in Afghanistan as a result of bin Laden’s death.

But this shift — coming as the president’s ratings on handling the situation in Afghanistan have improved — has not prompted a public reevaluation of whether the United States should keep troops there. Some 48 percent of Americans say U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan “as soon as possible,” virtually the same as the 50 percent who said so a month ago.

Barely more than half see bin Laden’s death as aiding long-term peace and stability in the Mideast. Only one in eight says it’s apt to help a lot. These numbers are far lower than the expectations expressed after the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003.

On the home front, the successful U.S. attack on the terrorism mastermind has significantly increased public confidence in the U.S. government’s ability to prevent terrorist attacks. Fully 61 percent of all Americans now have a “great deal” or a “good amount” of faith in the government on this front, the most saying so since November 2001.

Nonetheless, two-thirds are worried about a reprisal from the al-Qaeda terrorist network, although under one in four expresses “a great deal” of concern.

In another result, 34 percent of all Americans say the Pakistani government “mostly hurt” U.S. efforts to find bin Laden. Just 8 percent say Pakistan “mostly helped” that effort. A slim majority — 54 percent — say they don’t know enough to have an impression one way or the other. Nearly half of Republicans — 46 percent — say the Pakistanis mainly hindered U.S. goals.

The Post-Pew poll was conducted by conventional landline and cellular telephone Monday evening, and included interviews with 654 randomly selected adults. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

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