The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Most Americans credit Trump for Baghdadi death, but raid doesn’t shake negative ratings of president’s leadership, Post-ABC poll finds

President Trump on Sunday announcing the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

A majority of Americans say President Trump deserves credit for the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, although this past weekend’s successful raid has failed to improve ratings for Trump’s strength as a leader, a Washington Post-ABC News poll finds.

The public also offers mixed reactions to Trump’s withdrawal of American troops from the border between Syria and Turkey, with over 4 in 10 saying the move will weaken U.S. efforts against the Islamic State while others predict little negative impact.

The Post-ABC poll conducted Sunday through Wednesday finds a 54 percent majority of Americans saying Trump should get a great deal or “some” credit for Baghdadi’s death after ordering a nighttime military raid of a compound in northwest Syria on Saturday. Trump said Baghdadi fled into a dead-end tunnel where he detonated a suicide vest that killed him. No U.S. troops died or were injured in the raid.

Read the full Post-ABC poll results | See results by group

Trump garners substantial credit across oft-polarized partisan lines for his role in Baghdadi’s death. Nearly 4 in 10 Democrats and just over half of independents say he should get at least some credit, with those numbers rising to more than 7 in 10 among fellow Republicans. But Trump receives fewer plaudits than President Barack Obama after Obama ordered a 2011 U.S. strike that killed Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader who orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Then, 76 percent said Obama should get “a great deal” or “some” credit, according to a Post-Pew Research Center poll.

While Obama received a short-term boost in popularity after bin Laden’s killing, the successful raid against Baghdadi does not appear to have helped Trump’s image as a leader. The Post-ABC poll finds 44 percent saying Trump “is a strong leader,” little different from the 48 percent who said that at the start of the year.

A separate question finds roughly twice as many Americans saying the Trump administration’s policies have made the United States less respected, rather than more respected, around the world, 54 percent vs. 28 percent — views that are also very similar to a January Post-ABC poll in which 51 percent said Trump’s policies had damaged the country’s reputation.

As with after the bin Laden killing, Americans have limited expectations that Baghdadi’s death will make the United States safer from terrorism. Just over one-quarter say this, 26 percent, while 16 percent say the United States will be “more at risk” and 54 percent say there has not been much change. A Fox News poll immediately after bin Laden’s killing found 22 percent saying the United States was safer from terrorism, while a 47 percent plurality said there had not been much change.

Republicans are most optimistic about the effect of Baghdadi’s death, with 45 percent saying it will make the United States safer, compared with 22 percent of political independents and 15 percent of Democrats.

The successful raid targeting Baghdadi came only weeks after Trump announced the withdrawal from northeastern Syria of about 1,000 U.S. troops who were working to combat the Islamic State in partnership with Syrian Kurdish forces. Aided by U.S. and coalition air power and assistance, local Kurdish fighters had driven the terrorist group out of areas under its control.

The Post-ABC poll finds 44 percent of adults saying the U.S. withdrawal will “weaken” ongoing U.S. efforts against the militants, though slightly more say it will either “make no difference” (37 percent) or “strengthen” (12 percent) anti-Islamic State efforts.

Turkey has labeled the Kurds as terrorists and long sought their removal from the Syrian-Turkish border area. The U.S. troop withdrawal paved the way for a Turkish military offensive into Syria, drawing widespread criticism from Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Washington. They criticized the president for abandoning an ally and said it could lead to an Islamic State resurgence. Trump defended the withdrawal, saying Europe and regional allies needed to do more to combat the militants and that the U.S. troops should not be in the line of fire between Syria and Turkey, a NATO ally. He said in a news conference announcing Baghdadi’s death that Turkey and the Kurds “have been fighting for hundreds of years.”

Partisanship deeply colors reactions by the American public to the U.S. troop withdrawal. A 68 percent majority of Democrats say it will weaken U.S. efforts against the Islamic State, compared with 41 percent of political independents and 20 percent of Republicans.

More recently, Trump has said some U.S. troops will remain in an isolated part of northern Syria, away from the border, to guard oil fields occupied by the Kurds.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone from Sunday to Wednesday among a random national sample of 1,003 adults, with 65 percent reached on cellphones and 35 percent on landlines. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.