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.
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.
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.