Ahead of Karzai’s Visit, a Division on the War

May 9, 2010 12:01am

Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington this week may not bring out adoring throngs: The war in Afghanistan remains problematic in U.S. public opinion, with just more than half of Americans saying it’s not been worth fighting.

At 52 percent, that criticism of the war has grown by 8 points since December, when its support rebounded in a positive response to President Obama’s announced surge-then-withdraw plan. Views of the war are back almost exactly to where they were before the president’s Dec. 1 address.

Forty-five percent say the war has been worth fighting, including 26 percent who feel that way “strongly,” its lowest strong support in polling back more than a year. There’s greater intensity among opponents; 38 percent feel strongly that the war in Afghanistan has not been worth it.

For all that, Obama’s own handling of the war is one of his best individual issues, with 56 percent approval, his highest on the issue since August. That’s because his approach on Afghanistan gets an unusual level of approval from Republicans, 42 percent. Compare that to his approval among Republicans more generally, for handling his job overall – just 12 percent.

Republicans, similarly, are far more apt to say the war’s been worth fighting – 69 percent express that view, compared with 41 percent of independents and 32 percent of Democrats.

Democrats, for their part, appear cross-pressured by their disapproval of the war on one hand and their inclination to support Obama on the other. Just 34 percent give him “strong” approval for handling Afghanistan, far below his strong approval among Democrats for his job performance overall, 59 percent.

There are other differences among groups. Young adults are most critical of the war; 60 percent say it has not been worth fighting. That view also peaks among non-whites (65 percent, 17 points higher than among whites), and, at 66 percent, among people who voted for Obama in 2008 – marking the potential hazard the war poses for the president in his political base.

Our data on Karzai, while less recent, also underscore the challenges in mustering sustained U.S. public support for the war. In an ABC/Post poll in November just 26 percent regarded Karzai’s government as a “reliable partner for the United States in Afghanistan and only 38 percent expressed confidence it’ll be able to train an effective Afghan army to take over security there – the linchpin of Obama’s plan for withdrawal.

Karzai, as it happens, asks in a Washington Post op-ed today for more support for training the Afghan Army and police. He’s scheduled to visit Obama in the White House on Wednesday.

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