With Barack Obama in both of America's war zones last week, the media spotlight shifted from the economy back onto Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama has been arguing that Afghanistan -- not Iraq -- is the central front in the war on terror and that the U.S. should send more troops there to shore up the battle against the Taliban and al-Qaida. A new survey from Gallup and USA Today shows that the majority of Americans agree.
When asked which of the two wars is more important for the U.S., a 44 percent plurality of respondents cited Afghanistan, while 38 percent named Iraq. A partisan divide, however, was apparent. Republicans were more likely to call Iraq the vital front in America's struggle with terrorists; 47 percent chose that option, while just 31 percent chose Afghanistan. Meanwhile, a 45 percent plurality of independents and a 53 percent majority of Democrats saw America's first post-9/11 war as its most critical.
Americans still seem convinced that going into Afghanistan was the right thing to do in 2001, whereas a majority of respondents continue to question the Bush administration's decision to attack Iraq two years later. When asked if the U.S. made a mistake in invading Afghanistan, nearly 7 in 10 respondents said no, while just 28 percent said yes. But when Gallup asked the same question about Iraq in April, 63 percent of respondents said the invasion was a mistake, while just 36 percent maintained that it was justified.
Despite a stream of bad news coming out of Afghanistan, a 41 percent plurality of respondents told Gallup in the new survey that things are going moderately well for the U.S. there, with another 5 percent saying things are going very well. Thirty-three percent were less optimistic, saying the situation there is moderately bad, while another 18 percent said the situation is very negative. Reports coming out of Baghdad, on the other hand, have been more positive, with experts now agreeing that the surge has succeeded in reducing violence. But, in another release of the same Gallup survey, just 38 percent of respondents were willing to say that things are going moderately well in Iraq (and 8 percent very well).
While most polls now show a majority of Americans want to see troops come home from Iraq sooner rather than later, this survey demonstrates that many Americans are willing to recommit to Afghanistan. Fifty-nine percent of a half-sample favored sending more U.S. troops there to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida. Gallup asked another half-sample whether they would support moving troops from Iraq to Afghanistan; 57 percent said they would, while just 36 percent deemed that a bad move. Again, partisan differences emerged. Fewer Republicans supported sending additional troops to Afghanistan if they were coming from Iraq, while slightly more Democrats approved of moving troops from one front to another, as opposed to simply adding more troops in Afghanistan.
An Abiding Ailing Economy
The sharp drop in oil prices throughout July, including an 11-cent drop in gas prices this week, hasn't resonated much with Americans, who remain disgruntled with the weak economy. ABC News' Consumer Confidence Index [PDF] plummeted 6 points from last week, languishing at its lowest level in more than two months. The CCI currently stands at a -47 on a scale of +100 to -100, just a handful of points above the record-low -51 ABC News reported in May. Pollsters' analysis indicates that a drop of this size is "unusual": Only 12 times in the survey's 22 years has the CCI dropped by 6 or more points.
A scant 10 percent of the survey's respondents rated the economy in a positive light, down 4 percentage points from last week and matching the 15-year low that was seen in May. And the percentage of respondents who rated their personal finances as positive dipped below the 50-percent mark for the first time in a month.
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