The Hill Poll: Afghan withdrawal plans ‘about right,’ say voters

A plurality of voters agree with the Afghanistan withdrawal plan announced by President Obama last week, according to a new poll conducted for The Hill.

But the president’s re-election team should not celebrate just yet, since the poll’s findings highlight the deep fissures that continue to characterize public opinion on the war.

Thirty-nine percent of likely voters feel that the pace of withdrawal outlined by Obama is “about right,” the poll found.

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But sizeable minorities disagree. Thirty percent believe the scheduled withdrawal is not fast enough, while 28 percent believe American troops are being pulled out too hastily.

Obama announced in a televised address last Wednesday that 10,000 U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan before the end of this year, and that a further 23,000 would be withdrawn by September 2012.

If that timetable is adhered to, it will mean that U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan will return to their pre-surge levels two months in advance of the next presidential election. (Obama announced the surge in December 2009.)

Views of Afghanistan do not break down along clear party or ideological lines. The proportion of self-described Republicans and Democrats who believe Obama’s withdrawal plan is too sluggish is strikingly similar — 23 percent and 27 percent respectively.

Likewise, almost one in three self-described conservatives, or 32 percent, feel the withdrawal pace is too slow, a figure that outpaces the number of liberals (30 percent) who feel the same way.

Relatively few voters feel that the plan Obama has just announced will do his chances of re-election any harm. But there is a much sharper divide over whether it will benefit him, or will be largely irrelevant to the election’s outcome.

The Hill poll found that 40 percent of likely voters believe the plan will help his chances of winning a second term while 43 percent contend it will make no difference.

Despite the boost delivered to the president’s poll ratings in the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden, Republicans continue to hold their traditional advantage on national security, the poll found.

Asked which party they trust more on the issue, 46 percent opted for Republicans as against 34 percent for Democrats. Worryingly for Dems, the party is conspicuously lacking in the minds of independent voters, who gave Republicans an 18-point edge (38-20 percent) over Democrats on national security.

In a finding that will be more encouraging for the White House, last week’s decision to release oil from the strategic petroleum reserve was welcomed by a healthy plurality of voters, according to the poll. Forty-six percent believe the move will help the economy, while only 16 percent believe it will hurt. However, 32 percent assert that it will have no impact.

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The Hill poll also surveyed attitudes on free trade, as the debate over deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia loom.

Asked about the effects of “freer” trade with other nations, 44 percent asserted that it is good for the economy, while 34 percent expressed the opposite view.

These figures were broadly similar among Republicans and Democrats. However, there were starker splits along gender and racial lines.

Women are notably more skeptical of free trade than men. While men believe it is a net benefit by a resounding 51-27 percent margin, women are almost evenly split (38-40 percent to the negative) on the issue.

Similarly, while whites feel freer trade is a positive thing for the United States by 46-33 percent, African-American opinion was almost precisely the inverse: 42 percent of blacks believe it is bad for the economy, and only 30 percent say that it is a boon.

The Hill poll of 1,000 likely voters was conducted by Pulse Opinion Research on June 23. It has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.