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A Tale of Two Wars: Public Opinion on the U.S. Military Interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq


Gary C. Jacobson is a distinguished professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. He specializes in the study of U.S. elections, parties, interest groups, public opinion, and Congress. His most recent book is A Divider, Not a Uniter: George W. Bush and the American People.


U.S. military forces have been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001 and in Iraq since 2003. The two conflicts have differed sharply in scale, human cost, salience, timing, premises, trajectories, and elite politics. These differences have generated distinctive patterns of popular support, assessments of progress, and partisan division, which are documented and analyzed in this essay using aggregate survey data and data from modules in the 2008 and 2009 Cooperative Congressional Election Surveys specifically designed to compare the public's opinions on diverse aspects of the two wars. The configurations of opinion on the wars that had developed by the time President Barack Obama took office provided surprisingly broad and bipartisan support for his policies regarding both conflicts, at least through his first 15 months in office.