Poll: More Americans disapprove of Obama’s management of Afghanistan war

April 25, 2011

More Americans disapprove of President Obama’s management of the war in Afghanistan than support it, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, a finding that reflects the public’s broader concern over the course of the nearly decade-old conflict.

Americans have given Obama wide leeway in escalating the conflict in Afghanistan, which as a presidential candidate he called “the war we have to win.” That latitude is changing — and fairly quickly — as the longer-running of the two wars he inherited approaches the 10-year mark.

In the Post-ABC News survey released Monday, 49 percent of respondents said they disapprove of Obama’s management of the war and 44 percent voiced approval. The disapproval mark is the highest on record in Post-ABC News polling. Overall, the figures have essentially flipped since January, the last time the poll asked the question. In that survey, 49 percent approved of Obama’s handling of the Afghanistan war and 41 percent disapproved.

The change in public opinion comes at the start of the annual fighting season in Afghanistan, a period that U.S. military commanders have warned will probably be more intense than previous ones as the Taliban seeks to retake ground lost to U.S. forces over the past year.

After a months-long strategy review in fall 2009, Obama announced that he would send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan in hopes of changing the course of the war. He also set July 2011 as the date he would begin pulling out those forces, putting U.S. commanders and Afghan leaders under pressure to show progress over that time.

In recent months, U.S. military officials have described battlefield achievements against the Taliban, including in some of its traditional strongholds. But they have also warned that the gains remain “fragile and reversible.”

There are about 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, twice the number in Iraq.

On Monday, Obama met with his senior national security team at the White House for a monthly assessment session, as the debate over how quickly to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan this summer and how many to pull out gains momentum.

But at a time of rising concern at home about the national fiscal health, the American public is clearly tired of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, according to the Post-ABC News poll.

Last month, the survey revealed that nearly two-thirds of Americans think the war is no longer worth fighting, the highest number recorded in response to that question.

The steadily waning support for the war — and Obama’s stewardship of it — might have political implications as the president fights for reelection.

The poll released Monday showed that a majority of self-identified independents — 53 percent — disapprove of Obama’s handling of the war.

Independents were an essential part of the coalition that elected him in 2008, and the White House has been seeking to win back those voters as 2012 nears.

The last time the Post-ABC News poll recorded such high dissatisfaction among independents over Obama’s management of the Afghanistan war was in November 2009, the month before he announced his new surge strategy. It is only the second time that a majority of independents have said they disapprove of his approach.

Partisan lines are also deeply drawn over the issue.

Although half of the Republican respondents in last month’s poll said the war remains worth fighting, nearly 70 percent of Republicans in the latest survey said they disapprove of Obama’s handling of it.

Among Democratic respondents, 30 percent disapproved.

The telephone poll was conducted April 14 to 17 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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