I noted in a post this morning that Americans have less confidence in Mitt Romney than Barack Obama when it comes to foreign policy. Moments after that post went up the Pew Research Center released a new poll. It shows the challenge Romney faces in closing the gap with the president on foreign policy.
The issue in question is Afghanistan. Pew found that public support for keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan has hit a new low. Sixty percent of voters want to see U.S. troops come home as soon as possible. That's up from 48 percent a year ago.
Okay, no real surprise here. Just the continuation of a trend that has been underway for a while. The interesting news comes when you examine opinion by party. Two-thirds of Democrats and 65 percent of voters who say they support President Barack Obama also favor a rapid troop withdrawal. That's good news for the White House. The even better news is that support for a rapid troop withdrawal is nearly as high among Independents (62 percent) and among undecided or swing voters (59 percent). So Afghanistan shouldn't damage Obama much politically. He's drawing down troops, which is what the public wants, and he can deflect questions about the speed of their departure by saying that a more rapid draw down would endanger American (and Afghan) lives.
Things look different, however, on the Republican side of the ledger. Among Republicans as well as among voters who say they are certain they will vote for Mitt Romney, 48 percent favor removing troops as soon as possible, while 45 and 46 percent, respectively, support keeping U.S. forces there until the situation is stabilized.
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Of course, what Romney decides to say on Afghanistan won't matter much if November brings a lopsided election. But it could in a tight race. In that case, even a few votes could spell the difference between watching the inaugural address and giving it.
This article originally appeared at CFR.org, an Atlantic partner site.
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