Poll shows US split over Bowe Bergdahl swap. A red flag for Obama?

Forty percent of US voters back Obama's decision to trade POW Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners; 43 percent don't, an early poll shows. That's not a resounding 'hurrah' from Americans, signaling widespread uneasiness.

Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video/AP
US soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan.

Americans are fairly evenly split over whether President Obama should have swapped five Taliban prisoners to free captured Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan. That’s the (very preliminary) conclusion one can draw from a snap poll on the question, in any case.

According to the just-released Rasmussen Reports survey, 40 percent of likely voters agree with Mr. Obama’s decision to make the trade. Forty-three percent disagree with that decision. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus three points, according to Rasmussen, so that makes the outcome essentially a tie.

The usual caveats apply here. This is just one poll, and results may vary – the average of a series of different polls would be best, but we don’t yet have them in this case. Also, Rasmussen uses robocall systems to collect its data, and some statistics experts say that methodology is not the best. Noted.

We would guess that other surveys will at least be in the same stadium as Rasmussen when their numbers come in on this question. And the fact is that a split result on a hostage release is probably not good news for Obama administration officials. Almost half the nation may not be overjoyed they’ve brought home a captured soldier, which means the surrounding circumstances – questions about Bergdahl’s loyalties, worry about the high price paid – are weighing on the minds of a substantial number of Americans.

Underlying this may be a question on which we have more substantial polling: Americans’ attitudes toward the US presence in Afghanistan in general. In some ways, Bergdahl has perhaps become a symbol of the frustration many Americans feel about the stubborn Afghanistan war.

Gallup’s trend line on this question is sobering. In 2002, 93 percent of respondents said it was not a mistake to send US troops to Afghanistan. That was the high point. Since then it’s been a steady slope downward, and in February for the first time more respondents thought the Afghanistan war was an error than did not.

Forty-nine percent say it was a mistake, 48 percent say it was not, in Gallup’s February survey, its latest on the question. (The margin of error is plus or minus four points, if you’re interested.)

The partisan split on this question is fairly large, though. Republican and Republican-leaning respondents continue to approve of the Afghanistan campaign, with 62 percent rating it “not a mistake.” The comparable figure for Democrats and Democratic leaners is 40 percent.

“Republicans’ higher levels of support may be related to a Republican president’s initiation of the war, or an ideological inclination to support military involvement,” writes Frank Newport. Gallup editor in chief.

Other polls ask the Afghanistan question in slightly different ways but end up with approximately the same split. A February Pew survey found that 52 percent of Americans agree that the US has mostly failed to achieve its goals in Afghanistan as the end of its military involvement in that country approaches.

Only 38 percent say the US has mostly succeeded.

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