A Date We Can’t Believe In?

(This post was written by Glen Bolger and Jim Hobart.)

President Obama’s speech outlining his plans for the war in Afghanistan going forward has already generated a lot of very interesting polling data. A recent Quinnipiac survey tested approval of the surge, approval of the timeline for withdrawal, and belief that the withdrawal would actually occur when Obama said it would. The data by party for these questions is noteworthy, and suggests some serious potential problems for the President.

Fully 58% of registered voters approve of the decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, which, especially considering Obama’s numbers on some other issues and policies, is a figure he and his administration can be happy with. However, just 50% of Democrats approve of this decision, while 43% disapprove. The decision is much more popular with GOPers (70% approve) and Inds (57% approve). This data makes it clear that, while Dems may want to talk about an “identity crisis” or “civil war” in the Republican Party, they would be wise to pay attention to the increasing level of discontent in their own party. Dems and the Obama administration will try to downplay the relative unpopularity of this decision with the base, but remember, as bad as President Bush’s polling numbers were towards the end of his term, it was still very rare for 43% of GOPers to disapprove of one of his major policy decisions.

When it comes to the plan to withdraw troops beginning in July 2011, a significant majority (60%) of voters approve of the decision, and in this case, Obama has the full backing of Dems (82% approve). Even 36% of GOPers approve of a July 2011 withdrawal, which is a much higher level of support than Obama has been drawing from Republicans on other issues and policy decisions.

But, the withdrawal also presents some problems for the President. When asked if they think Obama actually will begin withdrawing troops in July of 2011, just 40% of voters say yes, while 45% say no. More than half of GOPers (51%) and Inds (53%) do not believe the troop withdrawal will begin by the given date, and 31% of Dems also have doubts about the timeline. Forget “change you can believe in,” voters are now saying Obama can’t even give them a date they can believe in.

With a candidacy that, in its early stages, was largely based on his opposition to the war in Iraq, Obama’s handling of the conflict in Afghanistan was always going to be difficult for him politically. However, even the most pessimistic adviser would not have predicted that Obama would be forced to deal with only tepid support from Democrats on the surge, as well as an electorate who no longer trusts that he will do what he says.

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