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Poll: Americans Back Troop Surge, Oppose Withdrawal Date

Last week President Obama outlined his new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, which includes the deployment of 30,000 more troops and the beginning of a troop withdrawal in July 2011.

A new CBS News/New York Times poll finds that Americans narrowly approve of the president's decision to send more troops to the country, with 51 percent offering their approval. Forty-three percent disapprove.

There is a clear partisan divide on the issue, and it reflects the fact that Mr. Obama's decision to deploy more troops has garnered more support from the opposition party than from his own.

Two in three Republicans back the troop surge, while just 27 percent disapprove. By contrast, just 42 percent of Democrats approve of the decision to deploy more troops, while 53 percent disapprove.

Independents are roughly evenly divided.

The president did not set a specific date for full withdrawal of troops in his speech, but he said troops will start coming home in July of 2011. Asked if setting a deadline for troop withdrawal is a good idea, just 41 percent of those surveyed said yes. The majority – 55 percent – called it a bad idea.

On this issue, Mr. Obama has a more traditional constituency: Democrats support a timetable for troop withdrawal, while Republicans and independents do not.

Read the Complete Poll

While they oppose a timetable, a majority of Americans say they are not willing to have large numbers of troops in Afghanistan for more than two years. Just 26 percent support maintaining significant troop levels for "as long as it takes." Thirty-two percent want most troops out in less than a year, and another 25 percent want them out in less than two years.

Democrats in Congress have been debating how to pay for the war and the troop surge, with war bonds and a war tax among the ideas being discussed.

Just ten percent of those surveyed support a tax increase to pay for the war. A majority (53 percent) say it should be paid for through spending cuts, while 19 percent favor adding to the budget deficit.

Assessments of the war continue to be highly negative. Thirty percent say things are going well for the U.S. in Afghanistan, while 60 percent say they are going badly. That's a slight improvement in perception from last month, when just 23 percent said things were going well.

The uptick can be attributed to Republicans, 41 percent of whom now say things are going well.

Most Americans do not believe the United States can count on the Afghan government to work toward stabilizing its country, something the president called for in his speech. Just 26 percent expect the country's government to work to create stability, while 61 percent do not.

And they are divided on whether the U.S. can effectively root out terrorists in Afghanistan. While 48 percent say it is at least somewhat likely that the U.S. can stop terrorists in Afghanistan, 42 percent say it is "not at all" or generally not likely. Just 11 percent overall say it is "very likely."

The president's speech appears to have improved public perception of his handling of the war, and 48 percent now approve of him on the issue, a ten-point increase from last month. Check out this post for more from the poll on perceptions of Mr. Obama on Afghanistan and other issues.


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CBS News Poll Database

This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,031 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone December 4-8, 2009. Phone numbers were dialed from random digit dial samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.

This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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