January 15, 2009

Strong Confidence in Obama - Country Seen As Less Politically Divided

Section 3: Opinions About Iraq and Afghanistan

Positive views of the situation in Iraq have risen dramatically since the beginning of 2007. Currently, 59% say the U.S. military effort in Iraq is going very well (16%) or fairly well (43%); 36% say things in Iraq are going not too well (26%) or not at all well (10%). These opinions have changed little since the fall, but roughly a year ago, in Feburary 2008, only about half (48%) said the military effort was going very or fairly well. In January 2007, just 35% expressed a positive opinion about how things were going in Iraq.

By contrast, opinions about the situation in Afghanistan have changed little over the past year and are much less positive than views of Iraq. Currently, 45% say the U.S. military effort there is going very well (7%) or fairly well (38%), while an equal percentage (45%) says things are going not too well (34%) or not at all well (11%). In February 2008, 48% said things were going well in Afghanistan.

Despite the contrast in perceptions of the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly identical majorities say the United States will definitely or probably succeed in achieving its goals in each country. Roughly six-in-ten (61%) say they believe United States will succeed in Iraq – the highest percentage in Pew Research surveys since the question was first asked in 2006 – and 62% say that the United States will definitely or probably succeed in Afghanistan.

For all of the positive signs in public attitudes about Iraq, however, a large majority of Americans (69%) say that the number of U.S. troops there should be decreased over the next year; just 6% say the number of troops should be increased while 17% support keeping troop levels as they are now. By contrast, the public is divided over whether troop levels should be increased (33%) or decreased (39%) in Afghanistan.

Another major difference between opinions about Iraq and Afghanistan is in how people view the original decision to use military force. Only about four-in-ten (43%) say the decision to go to war in Iraq was right. By comparison, nearly two-thirds (64%) endorse the decision to use force in Afghanistan. Public opinion about both wars has remained fairly stable over the past three years.

Iraq Troop Withdrawals and Obama

Sizable majorities of Democrats (83%) and independents (69%) say that the number of U.S. troops should be decreased over the next year. A majority of Republicans share this view – 53% say that the number of troops should be decreased, while 28% say troop levels should be kept as they are.

Americans are optimistic that Barack Obama will handle the withdrawal of troops from Iraq about right. Fully two-thirds (67%) share this view, while about one-in-five (19%) say the president-elect will remove troops from Iraq too quickly just 6% think he will wait too long.

Democrats and independents are especially likely to say Obama will handle the removal of troops from Iraq about right (82% and 68%, respectively), while Republicans are more divided. Nearly half of Republicans (47%) are confident that Obama will handle it right, while 39% express concern that he will remove troops from Iraq too quickly.

No Consensus on Afghanistan

The public is more evenly divided when it comes to opinions about U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan. Nearly four-in-ten (39%) would like to see the number of troops decreased over the next year, but fully one-third of Americans think the number of troops in Afghanistan should be increased and one-in-five think troop levels should be kept the same as now.

Obama, who has pledged to send more troops to Afghanistan, has yet to convince most Democrats that a troop increase is a good idea. Nearly half of Democrats (48%) would like to see fewer troops in Afghanistan over the next year, while 29% favor a troop increase and 17% support keeping the current troop level. Notably, more Republicans (38%) and independents (37%) than Democrats (29%) say that the number of troops in Afghanistan should be increased.

There also are large gender, racial and age differences in views about U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Far more men than women favor increasing the number of U.S. troops over the next year (43% vs. 24%); whites also are more likely than African Americans to say the number of troops should be increased (35% vs. 20%). By more than two-to-one, people younger than 30 say that the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan should be decreased rather than increased, and a plurality of those ages 30 to 49 agree. The balance of opinion among those 50 and older, by contrast, is in favor of increasing, not decreasing, the number of U.S. troops.