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CBS News poll: Most Americans disapprove of Biden's handling of Afghanistan withdrawal

CBS News logo CBS News 8/22/2021 Anthony Salvanto
Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie: President Biden Delivers Remarks On Status Of Afghanistan Evacuation © / Getty Images President Biden Delivers Remarks On Status Of Afghanistan Evacuation

Most Americans have wanted to withdraw from Afghanistan for a while, and most still do.

But not like this.

Public reaction to what's happened there is decidedly negative, with Americans now fearing wider repercussions from a heightened threat of terrorism. Back home, the public weighs in with rough judgments on President Biden — not only for his handling of it, but with his overall presidential approval rating dropping substantially, and broader views of his qualities like effectiveness and competence taking hits along with it.

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Looking forward, there is widespread and cross-party agreement on helping those Afghans who helped the U.S., including those who worked as translators or in intelligence, and on the belief that the U.S. is not presently doing enough to help civilians get out of Afghanistan, a critique that also finds agreement from most Democrats as well as most Republicans.

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It is also clear the public draws a distinction between the desire to leave Afghanistan and how it is handled.

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And even though support for withdrawing has dipped since the spring, those who disapprove say it's because the situation wasn't handled well — more so than they think troops now ought to stay. Moreover, Americans mostly blame the Afghan government and its army for the Taliban takeover.

Mr. Biden gets a net negative rating for handling the withdrawal, with mainly Democrats backing him here and a substantial drop since July. 

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Mr. Biden's overall approval rating, which had been consistently net positive since he took office, has dropped eight points and now lands at an even 50-50 nationwide. 

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He takes a big hit among independents. They'd given him positive marks in July, but now, more than half disapprove of how he's handling both withdrawing from Afghanistan and his job overall. His overall approval is down within his own Democratic Party — it's still high, in the 80s, but off its highs in the 90s. And while he had enjoyed a bit of Republican approval through the summer, that has dropped.

Along with the drop in approval, there's been a more specific impact on qualities the public sees in Mr. Biden. He'd been positive on qualities like competence, focus, and effectiveness — now those are each at least slightly net negative.

table © Provided by CBS News

He is still positive on handling the coronavirus outbreak, but that is also down from last month.

There is wide agreement across party lines that the U.S. should help Afghans who had helped the U.S., such as those who worked as translators or for intelligence with U.S. troops, and who might face punishment from the Taliban now. And there is also a widely held view the U.S. is not doing enough to help Afghan civilians trying to flee the Taliban by leaving the country.

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There's some doubt about planning going forward, with most feeling Mr. Biden does not have a clear plan for evacuating U.S. civilians from Afghanistan. 

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All that said, Americans do still place more responsibility for the Taliban takeover on Afghanistan's army and its toppled government than on Mr. Biden. That goes hand in hand with the larger desire to withdraw, in principle — those who put a lot of blame on the Afghan army are especially likely to say the U.S. should be getting out.

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With the Taliban now in control, Americans fear the threat of terrorism will go up. It may come as no surprise that this view is held in even higher numbers by Republicans, for whom it is often a larger concern and a point on which to criticize the Biden administration. 

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On some of these measures we find a lot of partisan agreement, more than we commonly see on other topics these days. Most in each party say the way troops were withdrawn has gone badly, and most across party lines agree that the U.S. ought to help Afghans who helped the U.S. 

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This CBS News/YouGov survey was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,142 U.S. adult residents interviewed between August 18-20, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the U.S. Census American Community Survey, and the U.S. Census Current Population Survey, as well as 2020 presidential vote. The margin of error is ±2.3 points.

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