Afghanistan: An Opinion Review

Mar 27, 2009 10:38am

Given President Obama’s announcement today of new Afghanistan policy, here’s a review of public opinion on the conflict from both sides of the world (2:45 p.m. update at end):

DOMESTIC: The president’s policy review comes at a dicey time for U.S. public opinion on the war: As we reported late last month, Americans divide by 50-47 percent on whether it’s been worth fighting, with the negative at a new high in ABC/Post polls. There’s also a divide on whether winning in Afghanistan is necessary for the broader war on terrorism to succeed – 50 percent say yes, 41 percent no, with the rest unsure.

Both questions produce very sharp partisan divisions, with Republicans far more likely to say the war’s worth fighting (74 percent, vs. 36 percent of Democrats) and to say it’s necessary to combat terrorism (75 percent of Republicans, 40 percent of Democrats). That makes prosecution of the war potentially tricky politically for Obama.

Nonetheless nearly two-thirds (64 percent) in our late-February ABC/Post poll supported Obama’s decision to send 17,000 more U.S. military forces to Afghanistan – reflecting a confluence of support for the war among Republicans, and support for Obama among Democrats.

Full report here.

AFGHAN: Our ABC/BBC/ARD poll in Afghanistan in January – our fourth there since 2005 – underscores the difficulty of the situation on the ground. We found sharply lower ratings for the performance of the United States and NATO, amid worsening security and struggling development efforts.

Favorable views of the United States overall in Afghanistan have plummeted from 83 percent in 2005 to 47 percent now; positive ratings of the U.S. performance there have fallen very similarly. Far fewer Afghans now say the United States or NATO/ISAF forces have a strong presence in their area (34 percent, down from 57 percent in 2006), or see them as effective in providing security (42 percent, down from 67 percent).

Civilian casualties in coalition air strikes are a key complaint: Seventy-seven percent of Afghans call such strikes unacceptable, and Western forces take more of the blame for them than anti-government insurgents.

Nonetheless, the Taliban, while resurgent, remain very broadly unpopular, and ratings of the Kabul government and its Western allies go far higher where they are seen as having a strong presence and providing effective security.

But the challenges in Afghanistan are not about security alone: Beyond the violence, our poll found struggling development, soaring corruption and broad complaints about food, power and prices. Despite the billions spent, positive ratings of local conditions are 21 points lower than in 2005. The absence of effective development – for example, 55 percent have no electricity whatsoever in their homes – predicts ratings of the Afghan government and U.S. efforts, regardless of security concerns.

Full report here.

Update – a couple of other points (been asked!):

-Majorities of Afghans support the presence of U.S. and NATO forces there – 63 percent and 59 percent, respectively. That’s informed, though, by the highly uncertain alternative, and equally notable is that they’re down by 15 and 19 points respectively since 2006. More striking is the decline in the perceived effectiveness of these forces. Confidence is so low that fewer than two in 10 Afghans endorse the increase in U.S. forces now underway.

-On corruption, which the president prominently mentioned today: Eighty-five percent of Afghans call it a problem and 63 percent call it a “big” problem, the latter up 18 points from just last year. Half say corruption has increased in the past year – more than twice as many as say it’s eased.

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