Testing the notion of a shift from counter-insurgency to counter-terrorism, this poll also asked if the United States should allow elements of the Taliban to regain power in Afghanistan if it determined that they do not support terrorism against the United States. Seventy-nine percent oppose the idea, further marking the deep suspicion with which Americans see the Taliban.
The perceived threat is a major element of support for the war and for the deployment of additional troops; both of these soar among people who see deterring the Taliban and al Qaeda as high priorities for the United States.
GROUPS and MOVABILITY – Views that the war's been worth fighting range from 71 percent among Republicans and 58 percent among conservatives to 36 percent among Democrats and 32 percent among liberals. Similarly, 69 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of conservatives favor sending more U.S. forces; among Democrats and liberals, 34 and 29 percent, respectively, agree.
There are divisions among other groups as well. Men, for example, are far more apt than women to support spending more troops, 56 percent vs. 39 percent; and it's 52 percent among people over age 30, compared with 28 percent of younger adults.
Attitudes, it should be noted, are movable. Support for sending additional U.S. forces is higher in this poll, with a support/oppose question noting that the military leadership has requested them, than in questions instead asking if the U.S. troop levels should be increased, decreased or kept the same. Also, while 33 percent "strongly" support sending more troops, and 38 percent strongly oppose it, that leaves a substantial group without strong feelings on the subject.
As to Obama, approval of his handling of the situation is nearly three times higher among people who think he has a clear plan.
All these point to likely strategies in marshalling public opinion: For supporters of increasing the troop deployment, the argument that it's needed to deter al Qaeda and the Taliban; to opponents, the opposite; and for the administration, the need to present a clear and persuasive strategy.
METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Oct. 15-18, 2009, among a random national sample of 1,004 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results for the full sample have a 3.5-point error margin. Click here for a detailed description of sampling error. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.