WASHINGTON — A majority of Americans think the country isn't winning the war in Afghanistan, and an even larger majority opposes sending more troops in an effort to turn things around, according to a new McClatchy/Ipsos poll.
The survey found that 54 percent of Americans think the U.S. isn't winning the war, while 29 percent think it is winning. Another 17 percent weren't sure or had no opinion.
At the same time, 56 percent oppose sending any more combat troops to Afghanistan, while 35 percent support sending more troops. Another 9 percent had no opinion or weren't sure.
The skepticism about the war and the opposition to sending more troops underscore the political dilemma that President Barack Obama faces as he heads to a Camp David retreat Wednesday with a copy of a new report on Afghanistan that urges a new strategy for the war there. Senior Pentagon officials are expected to request as many as 45,000 additional American troops in a separate report later this month.
Obama has long pledged to do what's necessary in Afghanistan to defeat al Qaida terrorists there, politically portraying it as a just war against those who attacked the U.S. in 2001 while lambasting the war in Iraq as a mistake and a distraction.
He faces growing pressure, however, from some within his party — and from the broader public, according to the poll — to limit or even reduce the American commitment to a war that they think isn't being won. Senior Pentagon officials have told McClatchy that they've detected White House hesitance to commit more troops.
Afghanistan isn't Obama's only political challenge. The McClatchy/Ipsos poll found continuing opposition to Democratic health care proposals — 45 percent opposed and 40 percent supporting — and served as another reminder to Obama that he needs to find a way to reframe the debate if he's to win public and congressional support for a health care overhaul.
It's Afghanistan, however, that's rapidly turning into a major test, as violence there escalates.
Despite Obama's commitment of 17,500 more combat troops and 4,000 more trainers — the U.S. now has 62,000 troops there and with 6,000 more on their way — the security situation has only worsened.
Last month, 51 U.S. troops were killed, making 2009 the deadliest year of the eight-year war for both U.S. and NATO forces — with four months still to go.
Skepticism runs deep, and cuts across demographic lines.
It rises with age, for example, with 45 percent of those who're 18-34 saying the country's not winning, rising to 57 percent of who're 35-54, and hitting 61 percent of those who're 55 and older. One possible reason: Older Americans remember Vietnam.
The belief, or fear, that the U.S. isn't winning also rises with income — 51 percent of those making less than $25,000, 55 percent of those who make between $25,000 and $50,000, and 61 percent of those who make more than $50,000.
People living in the Northeast are most likely to think that the war isn't being won; people in the South are the most likely to think it is being won. Even in the South, however, there are more skeptics than there are believers, by a margin of 48 percent to 34 percent.
Blacks were the most optimistic, with 35 percent saying the war is being won and 45 percent saying it isn't being won.
Politically, Democrats were the most pessimistic and Republicans were the most optimistic. Again, though, there were more skeptics, even among Republicans, by a margin of 53 percent to 35 percent.
Opposition to sending more troops also cuts across almost all lines, with the deepest opposition coming from women, young people, those making less money, people with less than a high school education, Hispanics and independents, followed closely by Democrats.
Only one group, Republicans, had a majority supporting the dispatch of more troops.
Women oppose sending more troops by the lopsided margin of 60-30, men by 52-40.
The biggest opposition to sending more combat troops comes from people who're 18-34 — those most likely to fight — and drops with age. Young adults oppose additional troops by a margin of 61-32; those who're 35-54 oppose it by 54-37; and those who're 55 and older were against it 53-36.
Similarly, those who make the least money were the most opposed, with those making less than $25,000 opposed by a margin of 70-27; those making $25,000-$50,000 opposed by a margin of 58-35; and those making more than $50,000 split, 45-45.
Geographically, the West was the most opposed to sending more troops, followed by the Northeast, South and Midwest.
Opposition to more troops was strongest among the least educated: 67-28 among those with less than a high school education and 49-38 among those with some college. The tide turned among the college educated, with 46 percent favoring more troops and 44 percent opposed.
Hispanics were the most opposed, 86-9, followed by non-Hispanic blacks, 78-15, and non-Hispanic whites, 49-42.
Politically, independents were the most opposed, 67-18, followed by Democrats, 66-27. Republicans favored sending more troops by a margin of 52-40.
(Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this article.)
These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted Aug. 27-31. For the survey, a nationally representative, randomly selected sample of 1,057 adults age 18 and older across the U.S. was interviewed by Ipsos. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within 3.01 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would've been had the entire adult population in the U.S. been polled. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to, coverage error and measurement error. These data were weighted to ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the actual U.S. population according to census figures. Respondents had the option to be interviewed in English or Spanish.
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