Wild Swings

Posted: February 26, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

A few days ago I wrote about a recent Harris/BBC America poll that showed barely a third of Americans supported a troop increase in Afghanistan. That’s no longer the case: according to a USA Today/Gallup poll published on Monday:

President Obama’s decision to send an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan is supported by 65% of the American public, including not only majority support from Democrats, but even larger support from Republicans — marking one of the few instances in which a president receives more support for a policy decision from those who identify with the opposing political party than he does from his own.

USA TODAY/Gallup poll re: Obamas troop increase in Afghanistan

USA TODAY/Gallup poll re: Obama's troop increase in Afghanistan

Overall approval for a troop increase in Afghanistan doubled in one month. What happened?

There are several possibilities. One is that either the Harris/BBC poll or the Gallup poll were outliers and randomly selected a sample totally unrepresentative of the American people. Another is that the polling methods of one or the other were flawed. Both of these scenarios are possible. However, my wife may have nailed it on the head with her analysis: public opinion on Afghanistan policy is still soft, a very popular president made the hypothetical policy into his actual policy, and now that troops are sure to be sent Americans want to support them.

If that’s the case, however, the administration should keep in mind that using your popularity to cause wide swings in public opinion irrevocably ties your political fortunes to the outcomes of the policy. Obama’s team keeps telling us that even with more troops,

“…if your question is, might it get worse before it gets better, the answer is yes, it might.”

Congressional elections will take place late next year. Remember what happened to the sitting president’s party the last time we had a war that “got worse before it got better” just in time for a mid-term election?

Update: The Washington Post just released new polling that tracks with the Gallup poll above.

WAPO/ABC News Afghanistan Poll

WAPO/ABC News Afghanistan Poll

In his analysis of the data, WAPO’s Jon Cohen says:

Nearly four in 10 who said the war has not justified its costs back the new troops, signaling that some people may expect better results after the troop levels rise. (Among Democrats, that number is closer to 50 percent.)

See above comment re: things getting worse before they get better.

  1. Greg says:

    I would agree with your wife’s assessment. The soft support is really a patriotic support of troops and I’ll add, many think that this surge in troops will lead to a final countdown and withdrawal. I cannot back up that additional comment with any polling or data however. Wishful and unrealistic thinking me thinks at best.

    One has to wonder if the military/idustrial infrastructure is just too massive and ingrained to move substationally on any issue. From Helicopters and F-22 acquistions to major shifts in foreign policy.

    No one party can do it, let alone a President. It’s going to take a major paradigm shift in how most Americans view “defense” as well as the way we view our enemies, and how we handle both.

    Not even being bankrupt seems to affect us.

  2. dcrowe says:

    I think you’re probably right re: the soft support. The WAPO/ABC News poll posted above shows a healthy dose of skepticism about the overall worth of the brawl in Afghanistan, but the president put his approval rating and the troops on the line and pushed us well into “Yes We Can” territory.

    I don’t think this support will last very long. Along with additional troops will go more reporters, and even embedded reporters won’t be able to avoid the harsh realities on the ground for long. Once the insanity of the goings-on starts filling airwaves again, that needle will start tilting back, in my opinion.

    My big fear is that we lost some ground in the collective breath we took after Obama was elected.

  3. […] are more consistent with the Harris/BBC America poll I blogged about a few weeks ago than the surprising Gallup poll that showed strong support for the decision to add troops. My hypothesis about the wide variation […]

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