Americans continue to support the decision to leave Afghanistan, a set of new polls released Sunday finds, but largely think the withdrawal was mishandled. And the public gives President Joe Biden relatively poor marks for the withdrawal, possibly exacerbating the slip in approval ratings he already faced this summer.
In a CBS News/YouGov survey conducted August 18-20, 44% of Americans said the removal of US troops from Afghanistan had gone very badly and other 30% said it had gone somewhat badly, with only about a quarter saying it had gone even somewhat well.
At the same time, the withdrawal itself remained broadly popular, with 63% approving of the US removing its troops from Afghanistan. Even among the minority who disapproved, a significant fraction said they thought the removal of troops should have been handled better, rather than that it shouldn’t have happened at all. Only about one-fifth of the public both disapproved of the withdrawal and said their disapproval was because some US troops should have stayed behind.
Separately, in an NBC News poll taken August 14-17, Americans said by 61% to 29% that the war in Afghanistan was not worth it, nearly identical to their feelings in 2014.
A 59% majority of Americans think the US is not doing enough to help Afghan people flee the country, the CBS/YouGov poll found. An even larger majority, 81%, say the US should take in Afghans who worked for US troops and officials in recent years in intelligence or as translators and now might face punishment from the Taliban. Although that’s a narrowly defined group, the overwhelming support for their resettlement contrasts with Americans’ frequent historical reluctance to take in refugees.
Polling on foreign policy frequently produces muddled or mixed results. This spring, for instance, one poll asking Americans whether they approved of withdrawing all US troops from Afghanistan found that a majority did. Another poll, which instead asked voters to choose between removing all or just some troops, found greater support for the latter option. That level of variation suggests that respondents generally don’t have strong preexisting opinions, instead often taking cues from political leaders or from the way individual polls frame their questions.
The two latest surveys also tell somewhat different stories about Biden’s current ratings on Afghanistan, but both show him underwater on the issue. The President’s approval rating for handling the removal of US troops from Afghanistan stands at 47%, per CBS/YouGov, down from 60% in July. The NBC poll puts him further into negative territory, with just 25% approving of his handling of the situation in Afghanistan.
Both surveys found Americans closely split on Biden’s overall job performance, a decline from his positive numbers earlier this year. In the CBS/YouGov poll, 50% approved and 50% disapproved (down from July, when 58% approved and 42% disapproved). In NBC’s poll, 49% approved and 48% disapproved (down from 53% approval and 39% disapproval in April).
Biden’s numbers, however, had started slipping long before Kabul fell to the Taliban, making it unlikely that his response in Afghanistan was a major driving factor. A third poll, conducted by Gallup, found the President’s approval rating dropping to 49%, down from 56% in June but roughly equivalent to his 50% standing in July. “Interviews conducted in the last three days of the poll’s field period, after Kabul fell to the Taliban, showed slightly less positive ratings for Biden than those conducted earlier,” Gallup’s Jeffrey M. Jones wrote, summarizing the findings as suggesting, inconclusively, that “the events in Afghanistan had a modest negative effect on Biden’s public approval.”
NBC’s pollsters, similarly, noted Americans’ rising pessimism about Covid-19 and the country in general as bigger factors. Just 37% of Americans in that poll said the worst of the pandemic in the US was already behind us, down from 61% in April. And just 29% said things in the nation were generally headed in the right direction, down from 36% in the spring.
“The best way to understand this poll is to forget Afghanistan,” pollster Bill McInturff, the Republican half of NBC’s bipartisan polling team, told the network.
The CBS News/YouGov poll surveyed 2,142 US adults on August 18-20 using a nationally representative online panel, with a margin of sampling error of ±2.3 points. The NBC News poll, conducted by Hart Research Associates and Public Opinion Strategies, surveyed 1,000 US adults on August 14-17, using live telephone interviews to reach both landlines and cell phones. It had a margin of sampling error of ±3.1 points.