Afghanistan's presidential election comes at a time of waning U.S. support for the war there: More than half of Americans now say it's not worth fighting, a first in ABC News/Washington Post polls, and support for reducing U.S. forces is up sharply.
Just 42 percent, moreover, think the United States is winning the war in Afghanistan; 36 percent say it's losing. And Americans by nearly 2 to 1 are not confident tomorrow's election will produce a government that can rule the country effectively.
Other ratings are brighter, notably including President Obama's 60 percent approval rating for handling the situation in Afghanistan overall. But souring public views on the war serve as a clear reminder of the risks it carries for the president – just as the war in Iraq severely damaged his predecessor as it grew in unpopularity.
CHANGES – The changes have occurred notably among liberal Democrats, whose view that the war is worth fighting has been cut in half since March, and whose support for reducing U.S. forces there has nearly doubled. Apart from these policy views, though, loyalty among Democrats has kept Obama's own approval rating on the issue afloat.
Other views, as noted, are positive: Six in 10 Americans express confidence in the ability of the United States and its allies to defeat the Taliban and to provide effective economic aid, and 55 percent are confident the allies can encourage the creation of an honest and effective Afghan government. But far fewer are "very" confident in any of these – just 19 percent on defeating the Taliban, 10 or 11 percent on encouraging effective governance or providing worthwhile development aid.
That lack of strong confidence in U.S. and allied progress helps explain the weak expectations for tomorrow's election, in which President Hamid Karzai seeks re-election in the face of a resurgent Taliban, deep economic problems and broad concerns with official corruption. About a third of Americans, 34 percent, are confident the election will produce an effective government; 64 percent instead doubt it. A mere 3 percent are "very" confident in a positive outcome.
Higher U.S. casualties have ensued, with 160 killed so far this year, including a one-month record of 76 in July. That, however, is still far from the levels seen in the Iraq war, whose broad and deep unpopularity gave George W. Bush the longest run on record with below-majority approval for any president in polling since the late 1930s.
Increasing troops in Afghanistan never has been broadly popular, and is less so now – in January 34 percent favored increasing the deployment of U.S. forces, now down to 24 percent. The number who favor decreasing U.S. forces, by contrast, has grown from 29 percent at the start of Obama's presidency seven months ago to 45 percent now.
Illustrating the change another way, in January more Americans favored increasing than decreasing the U.S. deployment, 34 percent to 29 percent. (The rest would have held it steady, or were undecided.) Today substantially more favor decreasing rather than increasing U.S. forces, 45 to 24 percent.