Afghanistan: Facing Reverse Coalitions

Health care and the economy have been front and center for several months now.  However, bubbling up in the background is the coming debate over whether to increase troop levels in Afghanistan and our latest NBC/WSJ poll* reveals the coalitional challenge President Obama faces on this issue.

On the surface, the public is fairly pessimistic about our progress there to date with 45% saying the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and Al Qaeda has been successful but 50% saying it has been unsuccessful. Looking forward, Americans express even less faith – just 28% say they feel more confident the war will come to a successful conclusion versus 59% who say they are less confident. 

And, when it comes to increasing troops, Americans seem conflicted, or perhaps in favor of maintaining the status quo.  A straight up-and-down question produces majority opposition (51%) to increasing troop level while 44% support it; but a majority (55%) also say we should NOT have an immediate and orderly withdrawal of troops, while 38% say we should.

As we’ve seen in our research on attitudes towards the war in Iraq, this issue results in significant gender and generational gaps.  Men support an increase in troops (53% support, 43% oppose), and women oppose it (35% support, 59% oppose).  Americans under age 50 oppose sending additional troops (35% support, 62% oppose) while those age 50 or over support it by 52% to 42%. 

But, what’s more interesting in this data is the reverse coalitions this issue creates.  Republicans tend to be more optimistic about current progress (62% successful, 36% unsuccessful) than Democrats (37% successful, 57% unsuccessful), and a majority of Republicans support an increase in troops (60% support, 34% oppose) while a majority of Democrats oppose it (30% support, 67% oppose).  Independents are evenly divided (49% support, 50% oppose).

As this debate develops, President Obama may find himself in a tight spot. Does he say no to his generals on the ground who recently requested 40,000 additional troops so that he can keep his Democratic Base happy; or does he stand by what he committed to in his presidential campaign when he talked about Afghanistan as a “necessary” war to which he would devote additional resources? 

 *National survey of 1,005 adults conducted September 17-19, 2009.(Public Opinion Strategies partners with Peter D. Hart Research Associates to conduct the NBC/WSJ polls. Neither Peter D. Hart Research Associates nor NBC/WSJ are responsible for these conclusions.)

Public Opinion Strategies