The last few weeks have seen a greater focus on U.S. efforts in Afghanistan — both in terms of the current status of the conflict and the range of future policy options. President Obama has addressed the issue, as has the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Although support for sending additional troops has increased, Americans continue to be divided on expanding the Afghan conflict, according to the latest FOX News poll.
A slim 43 percent plurality of Americans now disapproves of the job Barack Obama is doing on Afghanistan, an increase from the 32 percent who disapproved last month. Only Democrats, at 63 percent, assign positive marks to the president on Afghanistan, compared with 20 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of independents. All in all, 41 percent of Americans approve of the president's handling of Afghanistan, down from 51 percent.
Part of the reason for this shift on the handling of the Afghan conflict may be that a sizable majority of Americans (67 percent) thinks the Obama administration has not "clearly explained" what the U.S. is trying to achieve there. Even a 54 percent majority of Democrats holds this view.
Moreover, Americans are divided as to whether President Obama is influenced more by military commanders in the field (42 percent) or more by Democrats in Congress who oppose the conflict (43 percent).
Views are evenly split on sending additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Opposition has dropped from 50 percent in mid-September to 46 percent today, while support for the troop increase is up from 41 percent to 46 percent now.
Party breakdowns show Democrats continue to oppose sending more troops by a large margin (61 percent to 32 percent), and Republicans continue to support the troop increase by a nearly equal margin (65 percent to 29 percent). By a 10-percentage-point margin, independents oppose the idea (50 percent to 40 percent).
Regarding next steps in Afghanistan, Americans are much more likely to trust the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal (62 percent) over President Obama (22 percent).
Almost six in ten Americans (59 percent) are pessimistic about the prospects for stability in the entire region in which Afghanistan is situated — a view shared by Democrats (59 percent), Republicans (60 percent) and independents (62 percent) alike.
Moreover, by a better than six-to-one margin (44 percent to 7 percent), people think terrorist attacks against the U.S. will increase rather than decrease if troops are removed before stabilizing Afghanistan. Some 40 percent say there would be no change.
Despite the policy concentration on Afghanistan, more Americans (34 percent) think Pakistan's security and stability are the most important considerations in the region — over both Afghanistan (19 percent) and Iraq (23 percent).
The national telephone poll was conducted for Fox News by Opinion Dynamics Corp. among 900 registered voters from Oct. 13 to Oct. 14, 2009. The poll has a 3-point error margin.
Ernie Paicopolos is a Principal at Opinion Dynamics Corporation.