liberals, democrats, and the afghanistan war

Ben Casnocha got in trouble for saying that liberals were giving tacit support to the war in Afghanistan by not actively protesting or complaining. Justifiably, the commenters criticized Casnocha. Many liberals do vocally oppose the war in Afghanistan.  But there is a kernel of truth behind Casnocha’s comments: the ferocious and highly vocal antiwar movement has pretty much shrunk from view, much of it has to do with Democrats not showing up anymore.

So let’s start with some basic facts:

  • Polling data shows a decline in support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last decade. For example, a CNN poll from May 2010 shows that 62% of respondents want the Iraq war to end. The Polling Report collects poll results from various organizations and you can read this page on Afghanistan. Except for the Fox polling outfit, most report over 50% for “oppose the war” (CNN) or “not worth fighting” (ABC news).  Presumably, these percentages against the Afghanistan war would be higher for self-identified Democrats.
  • Many liberal organizations, such as Moveon, have publicly opposed both wars, as have numerous liberal and  political Democratic leaders.
  • The organized antiwar movement has collapsed. My collaborator and I have been studying antiwar protest since 2004. We have found that (a) the size of protests has drastically shrunk and (b) the % of the crowd that is democrat has drastically decreased. Here’s the previous post (“democrats dump the antiwar movement“). This will appear in the journal Mobilization in early 2011.
  • Antiwar organizations have experienced severe reductions in contributions and other forms of assistance in the period following Obama’s election. For example, UFPJ, a leading antiwar organization, has converted itself mainly to an online presence because of severe budget problems.

The bottom line: People oppose the wars, but it simply isn’t a priority. People in general, including Democrats and liberals, oppose the war but they have stopped showing up to antiwar rallies, they’ve stopped giving money to antiwar groups, and they have stopped putting pressure on Democratic politicians to stop the war.

There are a number of possible reasons for this. Perhaps it is just partisanship. To some degree this is true. My survey data, and other polling, suggests that Democrats are more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Obama. Another reason might be that Democrats oppose the war in general, but feel that Obama’s specific policies are good. If you look at the Feb 2010 Newsweek poll, you’ll see that respondents think Obama has the best policies for Afghanistan (46%), at least when compared to Congressional Republicans (27%). Third, other issues may have simply displaced the war. The economy and health care reform are pretty important and they directly affect more people than the wars.

Written by fabiorojas

July 14, 2010 at 3:13 am

4 Responses

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  1. Excellent post. Thanks for the follow-up.


    Ben Casnocha

    July 14, 2010 at 3:38 am

  2. Conflating the two wars probably doesn’t help.


    Joseph Logan

    July 14, 2010 at 7:44 am

  3. Tony Judt 2006

    Why have American liberals acquiesced in President Bush’s catastrophic foreign policy? Why have they so little to say about Iraq, about Lebanon, or about reports of a planned attack on Iran? Why has the administration’s sustained attack on civil liberties and international law aroused so little opposition or anger from those who used to care most about these things? Why, in short, has the liberal intelligentsia of the United States in recent years kept its head safely below the parapet?

    He was right.

    No sense of history



    July 14, 2010 at 9:24 pm

  4. President Obama campaigned on an increased effort in Afghanistan. Perhaps those who voted for him are not inclined to protest because they like the job he is doing in general and because he is doing what he said he was going to do. The media do not seem to be following either war as closely as they have in the past. Could this influence things (if true)?


    David Hoopes

    July 19, 2010 at 10:44 pm

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