When President Obama noted in his State of the Union that he’s ended one war and is moving closer to ending another, there were partisan differences in the applause. Democrats, long critical of the deadly, lengthy conflicts launched by the Bush/Cheney administration, cheered the wars’ end. Republicans, long critical of withdrawal plans, didn’t.
But among regular Americans away from Capitol Hill, the divisions are far less stark. A new report from the Pew Research Center and USA Today shows most Americans believe the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan failed to achieve their goals. Of particular interest, though, were the partisan breakdowns.
All groups have become more pessimistic about U.S. achievements in Iraq since the fall of 2011, and the decline has been especially steep among Republicans. In November 2011, Republicans (68%) were more likely than Democrats (56%) and independents (52%) to say the U.S. had mostly achieved its goals in Iraq. Since then, positive views have fallen 32 points among Republicans, 19 points among Democrats and 14 points among independents.Overall views of the success of the war in Afghanistan are nearly identical to opinions about the Iraq war.
This would have been hard to predict a decade ago.
It may seem like ages ago, but for much of the Bush/Cheney era, public opinion on these two wars were deeply partisan. Indeed, it was quite common for conservatives to use Democratic criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of Iraq, for example, to question progressives’ patriotism and accuse them of being “soft on terror.” The “fifth columnist” label was casually thrown around to an unsettling degree.
Indeed, look at the above chart and note the differences between the red and blue lines for much of Bush’s second term. At times, the partisan gap between Democrats and Republicans on confidence in the war in Iraq was nearly 50 points.
That gap has since collapsed. Asked whether the war in Iraq was a success, Democrats, Republicans, and independents respond almost exactly the same way.
This is not to say there’s complete agreement across the board. The same poll found that a narrow majority (52%) of Republicans still believe invading Iraq was the right call, even if the war was a failure. Most Democrats (64%), not surprisingly, disagree.
But the larger trend towards consensus is nevertheless striking. If you’d told me in 2005 that in nine years, the war would be over, and Democrats and Republicans would agree that the conflict was a failure, it would have been very difficult to believe at the time.
And yet, here we are.