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Obama Approval on Afghanistan, at 35%, Trails Other Issues

Decline from 49% in September far exceeds that for other issues and for approval more broadly

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are far less approving of President Obama's handling of the situation in Afghanistan than they have been in recent months, with 35% currently approving, down from 49% in September and 56% in July.

2009 Trend: Do You Approve or Disapprove of the Way Barack Obama Is Handling the Situation in Afghanistan?

"The decline in Obama's approval rating on Afghanistan is evident among all party groups, with double-digit decreases since September among Republicans (17 points), independents (16 points), and Democrats (10 points)."

Tuesday, Obama outlines his new strategy for the war in Afghanistan in a nationally televised address. The policy has been months in the making as Obama held numerous meetings with his military and foreign policy advisers, drawing some criticism for the delay in formulating a new strategy. The commanding U.S. general in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has recommended that the United States increase the number of troops it has in that country by about 40,000. Obama is expected to announce a slightly smaller increase.

The decline in Obama's approval rating on Afghanistan is evident among all party groups, with double-digit decreases since September among Republicans (17 points), independents (16 points), and Democrats (10 points).

2009 Trend: Approval Ratings of Barack Obama's Handling of the Situation in Afghanistan, by Political Party

While a slim majority of Obama's fellow Democrats approve of his handling of the issue, his new policy may not be well-received by Democrats, who have indicated opposition to troop-level increases in Afghanistan. The details of the policy will likely be more appealing to Republicans, who are supportive of putting more U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The question about Afghanistan comes from a Nov. 20-22 USA Today/Gallup poll that also asked Americans to rate Obama's handling of six other issues. The president registers less than majority approval for his performance on all seven issues, with Afghanistan his worst rating. His best rating is on energy policy, with 49% approval.

Approval Ratings of Barack Obama on Issues

Obama's overall job approval rating has also been below the majority level for most of the time since Nov. 20 in Gallup Daily tracking, though it has inched back above the 50% mark in recent days.

The 14-point decline in Obama's approval rating on Afghanistan stands in contrast to the trend lines on other issues, including the economy, healthcare, and energy. While his current ratings on these issues are down since September, the declines have been fairly minimal.

September-November 2009 Trend in Approval Ratings of Barack Obama on Issues

Bottom Line

The president's decisions on U.S. military action in Afghanistan are arguably among the most important and difficult of his presidency. He met several times with his advisers in recent weeks before outlining his new policy to the American public Tuesday night. The speech gives the president a chance to regain the confidence of Americans on the issue, after a sharp drop in his ratings over the past two months.

But the decline in Americans' evaluations of Obama on Afghanistan does not appear to have greatly affected their more general views of him, as his overall job approval rating -- though down slightly since September -- has not declined to nearly the same degree as his rating on Afghanistan.

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Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,017 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 20-22, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.


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