Now that the last U.S. troops have left Afghanistan after two decades of war, an increasing number of Americans say they support the decision to withdraw — yet more say they disapprove of the way the withdrawal was handled, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.
As a result, President Biden’s approval rating has fallen to an all-time low.
The survey of 1,605 U.S. adults was conducted from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, immediately after an ISIS-K suicide bomber killed 13 American soldiers and dozens of Afghans outside the country’s main airport during the final, frenzied days of the U.S. evacuation. It shows that public opinion toward Biden and the war has undergone a significant shift since the previous Yahoo News/YouGov poll, which was conducted after the Taliban took control of Kabul two weeks ago.
Today, just 44 percent of Americans approve of the way Biden is handling his job as president; 49 percent disapprove. This is Biden’s lowest approval rating in a Yahoo News/YouGov poll since taking office, and the first time more Americans have disapproved of his performance than approved of it.
Two weeks ago, 47 percent of Americans approved of Biden’s performance as president, while 46 percent disapproved. At the time, rising disapproval of his approach to foreign policy — up 7 percentage points from two weeks earlier — had not yet dented his overall numbers much, if at all.
That appears to have changed in the wake of the Kabul airport attack. Just a third of Americans (33 percent) say they approve of the way Biden has handled the war in Afghanistan; a clear majority (55 percent) disapprove. More specifically, less than a quarter (24 percent) say they approve of "the way the U.S. had handled its withdrawal from Afghanistan," while twice as many (49 percent) say they disapprove.
Increasingly, Americans seem to be distinguishing between the decision to leave Afghanistan and the messy (and now deadly) way that decision has played out in the real world — and Biden's standing has suffered because of it.
For instance, support for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan has actually risen 7 points over the past two weeks (from 40 percent to 47 percent); opposition has remained low (29 percent now vs. 28 percent before). This increase in support for the decision to withdraw is consistent across the political spectrum, climbing 9 points among Democrats (from 60 percent to 69 percent), 9 points among independents (from 39 percent to 48 percent) and 5 points among Republicans (from 22 percent to 27 percent).
Yet while support for withdrawal has rebounded, support for the White House argument that recent events in Afghanistan "were inevitable and would have happened at some point no matter what" has weakened, especially among Republicans. Only about a third of Americans (34 percent) now say they share that view (down from 38 percent two weeks ago), while more (43 percent, up from 40 percent) favor the counterargument that recent events "were not inevitable and could have been avoided with a different approach.” Most of the movement on this question has come from Republicans, with 72 percent now rejecting the inevitability of recent events in Afghanistan (compared with 66 percent two weeks ago).
Ultimately, though, Americans of all political persuasions are dissatisfied with the situation in Afghanistan and concerned about the repercussions for Afghans and Americans going forward. Just 27 percent agree that "The U.S. is doing enough to get Americans out of Afghanistan safely,” and even fewer (21 percent) that "The U.S. is doing enough to get at-risk Afghans out of Afghanistan safely." The share who say Biden himself deserves “a great deal” of blame for recent events there has risen 4 points over the last two weeks (to 38 percent), and by similar amounts among both Democrats (5 points, to 15 percent) and Republicans (6 points, to 74 percent).
Meanwhile, a large and growing majority of Americans are now very or somewhat worried about "the consequences of Taliban taking control of Afghanistan" (68 percent, up 5 points from two weeks ago); about "terrorist attacks against the U.S. being launched from Afghanistan" (69 percent, up 5 points); and about "terrorist attacks against other countries being launched from Afghanistan" (69 percent, also up 5 points).
These shared concerns may partly explain why Biden's overall approval rating has shown more erosion among Democrats over the last two weeks (dropping from 86 percent to 80 percent) than Republicans (down 1 point from 10 percent to 9 percent, with disapproval flat at 89 percent). The latter had already made up their minds; the former seem unsettled by recent events.
Biden's decline is even clearer when compared with his numbers from four months ago. In late April, a full 54 percent of Americans approved of his job performance; just 37 percent disapproved. His approval number has fallen by 10 points since then; his disapproval number has risen by 12. Strong approval among Democrats has plummeted by 16 points, from 59 percent to 43 percent; strong approval among independents is down by half, from 26 percent to 13 percent.
And while Biden’s numbers on Afghanistan are his worst, events there also appear to be coloring perceptions of his performance in other areas; today, the president’s approval rating on nearly every other issue is 2 to 4 percentage points lower than two weeks ago. Even his rating on handling the pandemic — his strongest issue — has suffered, slipping from 58 percent approve, 31 percent disapprove in April to 48 percent approve, 41 percent disapprove today.
If there is any consolation for the president in the new Yahoo News/YouGov poll, it may be that less than a third of Americans (28 percent) say they are following news about the war in Afghanistan "very closely" — and that those very close observers tend to be Republicans (39 percent) and Fox News viewers (42 percent), who already overwhelmingly disapprove of Biden.
When the shock of recent events wears off, and attention inevitably fades, it's possible that Americans who are already more inclined than not to support the decision to withdraw will credit Biden with getting the job done — as opposed to blaming him for the way it unfolded. Even now, Americans are divided over former President Donald Trump's recent claim that "the withdrawal [from Afghanistan] would have been totally different if the Trump administration had been in charge" (39 percent agree, 38 percent disagree). And while most Americans (52 percent) now believe the U.S. has "lost" the war in Afghanistan, a full 58 percent of those who believe the U.S. has lost also believe it was not "possible to win."
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,605 U.S. adults interviewed online from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or non-vote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.7 percent.
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