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Biden's Approval Rating Hits A New Low After The Afghanistan Withdrawal

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which saw scenes of desperation and violence inside and outside of Kabul's airport, has coincided with a drop in President Biden's approval rating. Biden has fiercely defended the evacuation.
Taylor Crul
U.S. Air Force via Getty Images
The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which saw scenes of desperation and violence inside and outside of Kabul's airport, has coincided with a drop in President Biden's approval rating. Biden has fiercely defended the evacuation.

Amid the chaos of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Biden's approval rating slid to just 43% in the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

That is down 6 percentage points from a survey conducted in July and is the lowest mark for Biden in the poll since taking office. The decline is principally due to independents — just 36% of them approve of the job he's doing, a 10-point drop.

That a majority of independents now disapprove of his performance is bad news for Biden and Democrats. They're a key swing group, one Biden won in 2020 but who now think he's off track.

Biden hopes his decision on the withdrawal looks better as time goes by, but for now, he has taken a political hit.

It took seven months, but this is now a polarizing presidency

Republicans have struggled to drum up the kind of animus toward Biden as they did for, say, Hillary Clinton. But now, seven months into his presidency, they seem to have found what to grind their teeth about, from cultural and economic issues to Afghanistan.

A whopping 41% of U.S. adults, including 82% of Republicans, now strongly disapprove of the job Biden is doing. That is similar to the unprecedented enmity shown toward President Donald Trump.

Afghanistan is seen as a failure all around, but refugees are welcome at this point

On Afghanistan, 61% disapprove of Biden's handling of the withdrawal, including 71% of independents. A majority also disapproves of Biden's handling of foreign policy in general.

Still, an overwhelming 71% think the war in Afghanistan was a failure, and while they disapprove of how Biden handled the exit, they're split on what they think should have been done — 38% think the U.S. should have withdrawn but left some troops, 37% think it should have pulled out completely, and just 10% said no troops should be withdrawn.

Only 29% of respondents think the U.S. has a duty to continue its involvement in the beleaguered nation; 61% think it needs to be up to Afghans to determine their future without U.S. involvement.

But they do seem to feel the U.S. has a duty to Afghan refugees and visa holders. Nearly three-quarters — 73% — say they support allowing refugees to come to the United States.

While that support seems to be broad, it has become a flashpoint and split Republicans; some are fighting for Afghans to be resettled while others, like Trump, are using nativist rhetoric in calling to keep them out of the country.

The survey reflects that as well — 49% of Republicans approve of refugees coming to the U.S., while 44% do not.

The U.S. has a long history of not being very welcoming to refugees. Gallup found:

  • In 2015, 60% were against accepting Syrian refugees. 
  • In 1979, just a third were supportive of bringing in Vietnamese refugees after the war there. 
  • In 1946, after World War II, just 16% supported accepting European refugees, including Jews — after the Holocaust. 
  • The blame game

    As for which president they blame for that failure, that mostly splits along partisan lines. Overall, the most — 36% — goes to former Republican President George W. Bush, who sent troops to Afghanistan in the first place. The Taliban were largely run out of power, but al-Qaida leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden remained on the lam.

    Democrats pointed to Bush and Trump, who negotiated the exit deal with the Taliban without the then-Afghan government at the table.

    Republicans mostly blamed Biden and former President Barack Obama. Obama escalated involvement in Afghanistan after he felt Bush ignored it for the wrong war — in Iraq. Obama announced bin Laden had been killed in 2011, drew down U.S. troops significantly and vowed to withdraw all from Afghanistan, but never entirely did so.

    Domestic terrorism is seen as the bigger threat

    With the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks coming up this month, a plurality — 44% — thinks the country is less safe than it was before the attacks, while 30% say it's safer and a quarter say about the same.

    Politics is at play in this question as well. Two-thirds of Republicans said the U.S. is less safe.

    Overall, more believe domestic terrorism — 49% — is a greater threat than international terrorism — 41%.

    Almost 7 in 10 Republicans said it was international terrorism, though, that was the bigger threat, while 7 in 10 Democrats said it was domestic terrorism.

    Still, the overall number is a big shift from 2002 after 9/11 when by a 56%-to-30% margin in a CBS News poll, people said the opposite.

    The survey of 1,241 adults was conducted Aug. 26 through Tuesday, via landline and mobile telephones. Survey questions were available in English and Spanish. The margin of error of the full sample was 3.8 percentage points. The margins of error for the subsets of Democrats, Republicans and independents were all larger.

    Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Domenico Montanaro
    Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.