Partisan divide sharpens among Americans over Bowe Bergdahl swap

Americans who say trading five Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was 'wrong thing' to do outnumber those who say it was 'right thing,' two recent polls show. Republicans, in particular, object.

Rex C. Curry/AP/File
US Senator Ted Cruz explains his objections to trading five Taliban for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl at the Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth., June 6, 2014.

New polls show the US public appears disenchanted with the deal that freed US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

A USA Today/Pew Research survey released Monday found that 34 percent of respondents said trading five Taliban prisoners for Sergeant Bergdahl was the “right thing” to do, while 43 percent said it was the “wrong thing.” Twenty-three percent had no opinion.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Friday produced similar results. The survey asked respondents to agree or disagree with the statement that trading Taliban prisoners for Bergdahl was “the right thing to do.”  Twenty-nine percent agreed, meaning they approved of the swap. Forty-four percent disagreed. Of those, 26 percent rated their disenchantment as strong disagreement.

If anything, this shows that public opinion about the Bergdahl trade may be turning more negative as details about it emerge. Last week, one initial survey showed the public roughly split in its attitude toward the exchange. But as we wrote at the time, that result was probably not good news for the Obama administration. If almost half the nation isn’t happy about the freeing of a US soldier, that could indicate that the surrounding circumstances – questions about Bergdahl’s pre-capture behavior, worry that the freed Taliban figures will return to the fight – are weighing on the minds of a substantial number of Americans.

The caveat is that this is still a limited amount of data. US opinion could still change as the story about Bergdahl develops more fully in coming weeks.

And some poll findings appear to indicate that US voters have contradictory attitudes here. For instance, the Pew poll found that 56 percent of Americans agree that the US needs to do all it can to return a captive US soldier, no matter the circumstances. Only 29 percent said the US was not obligated to do all it could because Bergdahl had left his post.

It might also be possible that what is at work is not a shift of US public opinion en masse so much as a hardening of partisan attitudes. The Pew results were driven by the fact that a large majority of self-identified Republicans – 71 percent – reject the deal. Democrats actually approve of the exchange, 55 to 24 percent, according to Pew.

Thus, the overall results of the Pew poll could be seen as driven by overwhelming GOP disapproval versus less-overwhelming Democratic support.

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