Americans support decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan

April 23, 2021, 7:20 PM UTC

It’s been nearly two decades since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (as well as the heroics of United 93’s passengers who prevented another attack), and the country is divided on whether or not the 20-year War on Terror has been worth the cost (39% say it has, 35% say it has not).

One thing Americans in the latest Economist/YouGov poll tend to agree on is that it is time for the United States to leave Afghanistan. 

This longest war in American history, which began the War on Terror, cost more than 2,300 American lives. Both President Donald Trump (who set a withdrawal date of May 11 as part of a peace agreement with the Taliban) and President Joe Biden specified dates for withdrawal. 

A majority of Americans (58%) approve of the decision to withdraw all troops. That support is higher among Democrats (74%), Independents (59%), and those in military households (61%) than it is among Republicans (45%). Those currently serving in the military (52%) or who have served in the past (53%) agree that U.S. troops should leave Afghanistan.

Afghanistan may not have started out as a divisive war (at the start, nearly nine in ten in a CBS News Poll favored military action there), but it became one. One-third of Americans (36%) now describe it as a mistake; one-third (35%) don’t see it that way. Three in 10 adults (29%) aren’t sure whether it was a mistake or not.  

Just about half of Republicans (51%) say the war has been worth the cost, and they are joined in that position by those in the military today (60%), their families (44%), and military veterans (47%). But even in these groups, around one-third find the effort not worth the cost.

What does withdrawal mean? Most Americans (60%) aren’t sure it means victory or defeat for the U.S., with just about as many saying the United States lost (22%) as won (18%). Republicans are twice as likely to say withdrawal means defeat for the United States (30%) as to say it means victory (16%), though half of Republicans (53%) aren’t sure whether withdrawal signifies winning or losing. 

The sizable support for the Biden withdrawal plan translates – for now – into overall approval of the President’s handling of the war there, though not by an overwhelming margin. Two in five (41%) currently approve of how the President is handling Afghanistan, 35% disapprove. 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll 

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Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between April 17 - 20, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.7% for the overall sample 

Image: Getty