Occupy the Ballot for the 99%



  • We have an important opportunity in November 2012 for millions of Americans to vote on many state and city ballots to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan and make substantial cuts to the military budget. These advisory measures would go on the November general election ballot in Democratic-controlled states, cities, and counties. In the articles below we provide some information on how these votes can happen, and the polling that shows we have a strong chance to win.

  • We start with an overview of how the peace movement has combined demonstrations and referendums in the past to help bring an end to the nuclear arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States (although this did not lead to the abolition of nuclear weapons, a task yet to be accomplished); and less successfully, to protest the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

  • The public largely agrees with the peace movement on ending the war in Afghanistan and cutting the military budget. Nationally, by 58-36 percent, voters favor U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Over two-thirds of voters in Democratic-controlled states want U.S. troops to come home. Two-thirds’ support is the threshold needed to ensure that ballot initiatives and propositions pass.

  • A majority of Americans are in favor of making substantial cuts to the military budget (anywhere from a 10% to 30% cut, depending on the poll), and this support rises considerably in Democratic states. “Overwhelming majorities” approve of cuts when people are asked if they want the money saved to be spent on social services and jobs.

    oth the National Conference of Mayors and the Democratic National Committee passed resolutions in 2011 calling for the United States to get out of Afghanistan and for the money to be spent on jobs and to help cities. This is significant because most of the anti-war ballot measures are likely to be put on the ballot in large Democratic cities, and in some Democratic-controlled states. The National Conference of Mayors’ resolution was the first time since 1971 that they had issued a call for U.S. troop withdrawal.


  • If there had been widespread statewide referendums on withdrawal from Iraq in 2006 and 2008, U.S. troops would be home by now and the occupations of Iraq, and likely Afghanistan, would have ended. Votes here would have encouraged more Iraqis to demand a national referendum to end to the U.S. occupation, which many parties in Iraq were calling for anyway. These calls led to the U.S. pullout from Iraq. While many city councils passed resolutions against the war, plans to make the Iraq war a major issue in the 2008 elections, in the form of state initiatives and a large ad campaign, were stopped by the Democratic Party
  • We are promoting a national referendum for June and November 2012, primarily to get the support of tens of millions of voters for progressive economic reforms. A peace referendum as part of the November general election gives peace groups several months, from March through June, to do the necessary polling, decide on the exact language that should go on the ballot, and to get support from the wider progressive movement. Virtually all Democratic-controlled states, cities, and counties have until late July to vote to place measures on the November ballot.

  • If Democratic legislatures want to water down these measures for peace, they can be pressured through petition campaigns, and we have the option of putting these measures on ballots in large cities instead, where the city councils are more likely to support what peace groups, allied with the wider progressive movement, want. (It is too late to petition to get citizen initiatives for peace on the ballot; getting Democratic city councils and state legislatures to put them on the ballot is now our only option.)

  • In any case, we have no choice but to make a powerful call this year for cutting the military budget and ending the war in Afghanistan. Almost $1 trillion in automatic cuts to both the military and social services are slated to happen in 2013. The Pentagon and its military contractors will deploy maximum pressure and lobbying power to make sure there are only minimal cuts to the military, making most of these cuts fall on social services. The Obama administration, although ostensibly supporting equal cuts, is in fact helping this resistance to cuts to the military.

  • A referendum on military spending, with millions voting to cut the Pentagon and transfer that money to jobs and social programs, is the best way to fight this. Withdrawal from Afghanistan and cuts to the military budget will make $100 to $200 billion available for jobs and social programs; the fight for these goals can prevent similar amounts from being slashed from these programs.


June 12, 1982: “My child wants a future”—one of the million people who demonstrated against the nuclear arms race in New York City on June 12, 1982, up to that point the largest demonstration in U.S. history. In 1981 and 1983 five million people in Western Europe demonstrated against new U.S. nuclear missiles that threatened to unleash a devastating nuclear war. Because of the protests, these U.S. missiles were withdrawn from Europe a few years later.



November 1982: Two-thirds of New Jersey voters approved a nuclear freeze, a mutual halt to the nuclear arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States. The nuclear freeze was put on the ballot by the New Jersey state legislature by a vote of 101-3, and approved by the state’s Republican governor, after the nuclear weapons freeze organized in every legislative district in the state.

The proposed 2012 National Referendum to Save the American Dream is based on the inspiring example of the nationwide 1982 vote for a nuclear weapons freeze, the first and largest national advisory referendum in U.S. history. It was approved by voters in nine states and fifty-two cities and counties, encompassing 30 percent of the U.S. population, and helped lead to an end to the cold war and the nuclear arms race.

New Jersey Nuclear Freeze Ballot from 1982


February 15, 2003: At least 15 million people demonstrate around the world against the planned U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Two million people marched and rallied in London (shown here). At least one million demonstrated in the United States. These worldwide demonstrations were to that point the largest single global day of protest in history. Although international protest could not stop the war, which started a month later, it contributed to making the U.S. invasion illegitimate to the vast majority of the world’s people, and immoral and illegal to most of that majority.

April 4, 2006: Voters in 24 Wisconsin communities, including Madison, vote for “rapid, orderly withdrawal” of U.S. troops from Iraq. This initiative was placed on the ballot in 32 towns and cities by the Bring Our Troops Home coalition. Organizers hoped the outcome in Wisconsin would encourage people in other states to put similar referendums on November 2006 ballots and prompt members of Congress to put pressure on the Bush administration to bring troops home. Organizers said, It’s not going to stop here. This can be done anywhere.

Hundreds of cities did pass city council resolutions against the war before and after it started. But very few (San Francisco and Chicago, among others) put it to a vote of their citizens. Unlike the nuclear weapons freeze, there was not a single vote on a statewide ballot to bring the troops home. The victory in these Wisconsin communities was not repeated in other states that had the ability to put ending the war to a vote of their entire electorate. If it had been on many statewide ballots in 2006 and 2008, we would have been out of Iraq by 2010 at the latest, and be on our way out of Afghanistan, saving the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis, Afghans, and U.S. soldiers, and saving American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.

2006: Iraq veterans lead a protest against the war at the Pentagon. By its fourth year a majority of Americans were solidly opposed to the Iraq War. They wanted the troops to come home. By then over 4,000 U.S. troops, and at least several hundred thousand to one million Iraqis, had been killed in the U.S. invasion and occupation.

2006: Iraq veterans and parents of U.S. soldiers killed in the war protested for many months outside Bush’s ranch in Texas. Cindy Sheehan’s son was killed early on in the war.



After the 2006 elections Democrats retook control of Congress, propelled by popular dissatisfaction with the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s gross indifference to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The Democrats committed themselves to cut off funding for the war, but they never voted to do so. It is true that President Bush would have vetoed the bill, but Congressional Democrats didn’t even try to follow through on the promise they made to voters.

In 2008 the situation was even more favorable to an electoral rejection of the Iraq war. Two national projects planned to make the Iraq war central to Democratic victory that year. However, both were shut down by the Obama campaign, which blocked all independent efforts on its behalf, and by the Democratic National Committee, motivated by Democrats’ fear that they would be seen as “not supporting the troops.”

Ballotground hoped to place initiatives to withdraw from Iraq on four swing-state ballots around the country. Veteran Democratic campaign operatives started Ballotground, and they reportedly had several million dollars pledged in advance for their efforts. The donors withdrew after opposition from the Democratic Party. An even more ambitious effort, proposed by the Center for American Progress and other groups close to the Democratic Party, sought to spend $100 to $200 million on ads against the war. As peace activist Tom Hayden said at the time, this would have been the best-funded anti-war campaign in U.S. history. It too was shut down by the Democrats.

In California, the Democratic-majority legislature voted to put an Iraq withdrawal measure on the 2008 ballot, but Republican governor Schwarzenegger vetoed it, preventing the voters of the largest state in the nation from directly expressing their opposition to the war. Yet Democratic-controlled legislatures in other states with Democratic governors didn’t even try to put anti-war measures on the ballot.

Instead, in 2008 the Iraqi people stepped in to bring the war to an end. The Iraqi government and the Bush administration began negotiating an agreement on the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq through which the United States hoped to enforce a more permanent occupation. One of the largest Iraqi political parties, the Sadrist party led by Muqtada al Sadr, pushed for a national referendum on this agreement. The most important religious leader in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, threw his support behind this demand for a referendum. In this vote, the Iraqi people would have rejected the U.S. occupation, and rather than face this humiliation, the Bush administration signed an agreement for phased withdrawal.


Ever since then the U.S. military has sought ways not to carry out this, but this fall the U.S. was forced to pull out troops when the Iraqi government refused to grant U.S. troops immunity to prosecution in Iraqi courts. The U.S. refused to accept this, even when U.S. soldiers were charged with the murder of Iraqi civilians. Thus, in 2008, Iraqi demands for a national referendum forced the Bush administration to sign a withdrawal agreement they never wanted to sign, and in 2011 Iraqi insistence on the rule of law forced U.S. troops to actually leave.

Imagine if the peace movement in the United States had gone ahead and put ending the Iraq War to a successful vote of millions, or tens of millions, in 2006 and 2008. (The majority of Americans had turned against the war by late 2005.) If Iraqi demands had resulted in a national referendum of their own in 2008 to end the U.S. occupation, Americans and Iraqis would have in effect voted together to end the war. This democratic rejection of an illegal war would have forced even the Bush administration to withdraw more quickly.

If Iraqis and Americans had voted together for peace, then it is possible that an Iraqi vote for war reparations from the United States would have resulted in this country paying at least a token amount to repair the damage it had done to Iraq. Equally important, this international democratic victory for peace would have resulted in a much quicker U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. It would have made the U.S. government and military think twice about future U.S. invasions and occupations of other countries, because they would run the risk of once again being forced to leave by democratic votes of the American people and the people of the occupied country.

(By the same token, imagine the difference if voters in a number of states had voted in 2008 for single-payer health insurance, or alternatively, to give anyone who wished the ability to sign up for Medicare, with government subsidies for lower income Americans. The Democrats, when they controlled Congress in 2009 and 2010, spent ten months to pass a health care reform bill with no public option, and at the same time neglected many steps needed to deal with the economic crisis. The health care reform bill makes 50 million uninsured Americans wait until 2014 and after to get health insurance. This bill is unpopular and contributed to Democratic defeat in 2010. If 50 million people had been given health insurance in 2010, it is likely the Democrats would have won in the elections that year.)



How can peace groups take advantage of the opportunity presented by a national referendum in 2012 for millions of Americans to vote to bring the troops home from Afghanistan and/or to cut the military budget?

The peace movement has been the most prominent part of the progressive movement to use ballot initiatives and referenda, and resolutions by cities and states, to gain support for our causes. This was true of the nuclear weapons freeze in 1982, and of the resolutions and votes against the Iraq war that continued through 2008 after hundreds of cities passed resolutions against the impending war in early 2003.

We have almost no way to seek redress for illegal wars through the courts, and given the long history of Democratic Party support for U.S. wars, nuclear weapons, and huge military budgets in general, very few ways to convince the U.S. Congress to bring U.S. wars to an end.

Peace groups’ concerns have been more thoroughly shut out by the Obama administration than almost any other progressive sector since his election in 2008. This sense of betrayal was a large cause of the now abandoned calls to primary challenge Obama.

Yet the inevitability of Obama being the nominee does not end the possibility of calls for peace being an important presence in this election year. While the national referendum is mainly focused on solutions to the economic crisis, ballot propositions to get out of Afghanistan and cut the military budget are essential to realizing these economic and budgetary goals. When millions of people vote for peace in November 2012, we will have a strong basis to carry out a successful fight in 2013 to implement what people have voted for.


What we are putting forward is essentially a 3-year plan; a foundation this year; much broader organizing and education in 2013; and a very large referendum in 2014 in many states, more like the nuclear weapons freeze of 1982.

The referendum will be in two stages: a summer vote on June 5, and November votes on the same day as the general election. The summer vote will focus on economic issues primarily.

The November votes will be placed on the ballot by Democratic-controlled state and local governments, as in the June 5 vote, and by petition. If Democratic governments do not want to put antiwar measures on the November ballot, then petitioning is an option.  Likely, most antiwar ballot measures will be put on by sympathetic Democratic legislatures and city council members, under pressure from peace groups and the wider progressive movement. Most such governments have until sometime in July to make a final decision on what goes on the November ballot.

The June referendum will focus on economic issues and democratic issues like Citizens United.  If the June referendum is to happen it will require intense coalition building and action in February and March, just to come to agreement on whether to hold the referendum and what to put on the ballot, and then implementing those decisions.


Democrats and independents are much more for swift withdrawal from Afghanistan. Republican opinion is what keeps it down below 2/3 nationally. But in states where Democrats control, it is above 2/3, which is the threshold needed to almost definitely win an initiative or ballot question/proposition. And few if any polls ask about ending the wars and using the money here at home, which will poll much higher.


The proposed referendum gives peace groups, if they start organizing for this in March, 4-5 months to make decisions about what they want on the November ballot and to organize support for it to happen.

Over the last ten years peace groups have focused much more on anti-war resolutions passed primarily by city councils rather than putting steps toward peace to a vote of the people. Certainly, given the small size of most peace groups, resolutions are easier. But, if the same city council members or legislators will pass a resolution, why not go for the ballot?

A key step is showing broad coalitions in local areas how these budget cuts and transfers to human needs can concretely help people; second is using that opening to show what can and must be cut from the military, and why these expenditures are wasteful, do nothing to enhance our security, actually endanger our security, are thoroughly immoral, and illegal, and block solutions to much more desperate problems like climate change and jobs.

If progressive groups join together in February and March, there will be an initial national referendum vote on June 5, the date of the presidential primary in California, the largest state in the nation. The presidential nominations for both parties will largely be decided by February or March at the latest—Romney will be the Republican nominee and Obama’s nomination was effectively decided before the primaries began. Thus, unlike 2008, progressives will have the next four months largely to ourselves to organize, and have unusual media attention on the independent vote we are planning.

The second referendum date will be on the general election day, November 6.

Therefore, we are suggesting that peace groups focus on the November ballot. In most places, ballot measures to withdraw from Afghanistan and cut the military budget can go on the ballot as late as July, through Democratic-controlled city councils and perhaps some state legislatures. Thus, peace groups could agree among themselves first what they want to see on the ballot, and do this in meetings, from February through April or May.

It may be difficult to get Democratic elected officials, except in the most liberal cities, to place measures on the ballot to get out of Afghanistan quickly or to cut the military budget substantially when these positions contradict, or go further, than what the Obama administration wants. Therefore, petitioning is also important. Given the small memberships of peace groups, it will be easier if these petitions are circulated by a broader progressive coalition. These petitions will demonstrate, along with the polls, that there is widespread public support for them, encouraging a few Democratic states to put them on the ballot, especially when framed as we need to bring the money home to meet needs here. Petitioning will also help prevent the Democrats from watering down the measures. In a few places with initiative rights, it may be possible to get on the ballot that way, either for November (if deadlines can be met, which is doubtful in most places), or for a March 2013 special election that we will be calling on Democratic states, cities, and counties to hold.

It will be essential, in this decision-making process, to base decisions on polling what we would like to see on the ballot; to test what is the best language, and to find out where these measures for peace will pass.

After that, peace groups can get support in May and June from the coalitions working on the referendum; and get it on the ballot in June or July with this wider support. Thus, in the campaign to pass the referendum in November, these ballot measures for peace will be part of a package, or slate, that all progressive groups involved will be asking people to vote for.  In this way, the peace movement need not rely on its own, relatively limited resources, to make this majority vote for peace happen.



Some of the national peace groups that could join together to decide on ballot measures for peace for the November 2012 ballot, and then campaign to get them on the ballot and pass them, include (this is not an exhaustive list): Peace Action, American Friends Service Committee, United for Peace and Justice (and the numerous local groups that are a part of this network), Fellowship of Reconciliation, War Resisters League, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Code Pink, Pax Christi, Progressive Democrats of America, Win Without War, Institute for Policy Studies, Afghanistan Study Group, New America Foundation, Brave New Films, Military Families Speak Out, Veterans for Peace, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Abolition 2000, the denominationally based peace groups, and the national and local groups with campaigns to cut the military budget and fund human needs, such as the National Priorities Project, Bay Area Campaign for National Priorities, New Priorities Network, and others.

Combined, these groups have mailing and email lists of hundreds of thousands, with thousands of activists. Other progressive groups and unions, whose members also overwhelmingly support ending the war in Afghanistan and cutting the military budget, have tens of millions of members combined. The peace movement can win by working together with the broader progressive movement.


The economic crisis will be the main theme of the regular election, of the referendum itself, and of protests this year. Thanks to Occupy Wall Street, the 1% of the wealthy, banks, and corporations are finally being targeted directly for protests.

We are promoting two demonstrations this year where peace groups can help make cutting the military budget and getting out of Afghanistan prominent issues.

June 12, 2012 is the 30th anniversary of one the largest demonstrations for peace in U.S. history, the June 12, 1982 demonstration for nuclear disarmament of one million people in New York City.  This demonstration took place in the middle of the nationwide nuclear weapons freeze initiative campaign. The nuclear freeze is the inspiration for this year’s referendum campaign.

We are proposing a major demonstration in New York City for either Saturday, June 9, or Saturday, June 10, to march on Wall Street and demand that the reforms that tens of millions voted for in the referendum on June 5 be implemented, with a special focus on taxing the rich and taxing Wall Street.

Given the fact that this is close to the 30th anniversary of the June 1982 demonstration, peace could be a major theme of this demonstration as well.  June 12 is on a Tuesday this year, but there could be a demonstration in New York City that day focused not only on Afghanistan and cutting the military budget, but on abolition of nuclear weapons as well, perhaps with a march to the UN.

For November, after the national election and November referendum, we are proposing a major demonstration in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, November 10, followed by lobby days at the Capitol the following week, again to demand that what the people have voted for be implemented. Since millions hopefully will have voted to get out of Afghanistan and cut the military budget, this would be a focus of this demonstration as well.

We Stand With the Majority of Americans:
Human Needs, Not Corporate Greed

Statement by Occupy Washington, D.C.
September 2011
End the Wars, Bring the Troops Home, Cut Military Spending

The Pentagon has a very effective propaganda program to protect its budget, so polls find Americans greatly underestimate how much we spend. According to a Rasmussen poll, only 25% of voters believe the United States should always spend at least three times as much on defense as any other nation. Forty percent (40%) do not think the country needs to spend this much, while 35% are not sure. Interestingly, if the government were to actually spend only three times as much as any other nation, it would imply a significant cut in U.S. defense spending since in fact, the U.S. spends as much as the whole world combined on weapons and war. Earlier polling showed that just 58% recognize that the United States spends more on defense than any other nation in the world.  I could not find any corporate media outlet that asked Americans if the U.S. should spend as much as the whole world combined on the military.

The Program on International Policy Attitudes University of Maryland did a detailed examination of public opinion on military spending that was published in 2005.  They provided Americans with the overall federal budget and asked them to modify it.  They report: “Defense spending received the deepest cut, being cut on average 31%—equivalent to $133.8 billion—with 65% of respondents cutting. The second largest area to be cut was the supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan, which suffered an average cut of $29.6 billion or 35%, with two out of three respondents cutting.” Further “clear majorities favored increases (education 57%, job training 67%, medical research 57%, veteran’s benefits 63%), though only 43% of respondents favored increases for housing.”

In the recent deficit debate, polls showed a majority of Americans preferred cutting military spending to reduce the federal deficit rather than taking money from public retirement and health programs.  A Reuters/Ipsos poll released in March 2011 found 51% of Americans support reducing “defense” spending, and only 28% want to cut Medicare and Medicaid health programs for the elderly and poor and only 18% back cuts in Social Security. A July 2011 Rasmussen poll found that a plurality of Americans believe the United States can make major cuts in military spending without sacrificing security and nearly 80% said the U.S. spends too much protecting allies.

A January 2011 CNN poll found that more than six in ten Americans oppose the U.S. war in Afghanistan. A February 2011 USA Today/Gallup poll found Americans favored more rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan by 75% to 25%.

Regarding Iraq Angus Reid Public Opinion reports  in 2011 that half of Americans (52%) believe their government made a mistake in launching military action against Iraq in 2003. Large majorities of respondents in the U.S. (63%) and Britain (70%) believe that the Iraq War negatively affected the position and image of their respective countries in the world.

(This article by Occupy Washington, D.C. can be found: here).

Conclusion from a 1997 study of polls about cutting
military spending

If you propose cutting military 10% to 20%, majorities of Americans approve. If the funds that are cut are redirected to popular domestic programs, such as education, cutting crime rates, and cutting the deficit, “overwhelming majorities approve.”



Fifty-three cents of every federal tax dollar goes to current and past military spending.

         In January 2011 the Program for Public Consultation (PPC) conducted one of the best polls so far on potential cuts to military spending. They told participants the actual amounts spent by the federal government on discretionary programs, which includes the Pentagon (but not the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, interest on federal debt, and other military costs). They then asked people how much they thought should be cut from each of these discretionary programs.

         The mean cut to discretionary spending overall was $146 billion, with cuts to the Pentagon of $122 billion, or 83% of all cuts recommended. Overwhelmingly, most participants in the poll wanted most of the cuts to come from the military budget. The $122 billion recommended cut is 16% of a Pentagon budget that is currently $761 billion. Adjusted for inflation, Pentagon spending is 85% higher than just 11 years ago. Many deficit-cutting efforts, otherwise heavily right-wing, such as the Simpson-Bowles Commission, advocated $100 billion in cuts, or a 13% cut. So a 15% cut could be a good figure to poll test.

       Carl Conetta and Charles Knight, co-directors of the Project on Defense Alternatives, stress several other findings from polls that could be helpful to a winning ballot initiative to cut military spending in the article, Are We Ready to Cut Defense Spending? What the Polls Say.


         First, use the words “cut defense spending” rather than “cuts to the military” or the military budget. Much of the public associates "the military" with "the troops", and doesn't want to make cuts to the troops. Cutting "defense spending” is more popular. Second, including facts about the grotesque size of the Pentagon budget makes people more likely to support cuts; key facts include $761 billion in Pentagon costs, grossly disproportionate to social spending, and the fact that the U.S. spends five times as much on the military as any other country.  Third, the more people know about how unnecessary the Cold War-era weapons systems, and network of military bases, are, the more likely they are to support cuts. Fourth, people’s concerns that we need funds to solve the economic crisis strongly influences their desire to find money in the federal budget for needs closer to home.

         If the progressive groups that are pushing the referendum overall in any given city or state (1) help educate people about these basic facts about Pentagon spending, (2) stress that the Pentagon is another key place—in  addition to taxing the rich—where we can get the money to meet human needs, AND (3) show how specific social programs that people need could be fully funded with money transferred from the military budget, these ballot propositions for defense cuts will win in Democratic states and cities. Mobilizing people’s desires for full funding of social programs and jobs is central to the whole referendum. If people see that the cuts to the Pentagon are as justifiable and necessary a means to fund these desperately needed programs as is taxing the rich, then people will “vote a slate” of referendum measures to fully fund social programs and jobs programs. Most of the majority who pass the economic measures will vote for the cuts to the Pentagon, to transfer that funding to meet human needs.


Public Supports Withdrawal from Afghanistan by 22 Percentage Points;
We Can Put It on the Ballot as Part of the November Election

Opposition to the war in Afghanistan has been rising steadily, if somewhat slowly over the course of the Obama presidency. Support for withdrawal solidified after the killing of Osama bin laden, and no doubt has been strengthened by U.S. withdrawal of troops from Iraq at the end of 2011. In 2010, President Obama announced that he would withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The U.S. military wants an even longer commitment of troops. Thus, the ability to withdraw troops more quickly depends on a mobilization of public opinion, which by an average margin of 58-36% in recent polls now opposes the war. One recent poll found 64% support for withdrawing “as soon as possible.” Additional polling on what the public wants will be crucial in crafting the language of a ballot measure that will win and that will be as principled as possible. The critical point is that support for ending the war is considerably higher in Democratic-controlled states and cities, well above the 2/3 necessary to almost definitely win a ballot measure or proposition. When these votes for peace win in Democratic areas, they can create a bandwagon effect of increasing majority support for withdrawal among the public nationally.

This article is an overview of public opinion on U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. The polls cited in this article are from 2011 unless otherwise stated. The full polls can be seen at PollingReport on Afghanistan.

Should the United States be in Afghanistan?

The strongest poll against the war was also the most recent one. According to a November CNN /ORC poll, 63% oppose the U.S. war in Afghanistan, while 35% are in favor of it. The poll has been done regularly, and opposition has increased by 11 percentage points since Obama took office. Of those opposed, 26% believe the war was a mistake (the core antiwar constituency, which is going to be higher in Democratic areas), while 34% believe it was mismanaged. A May AP/GfK poll asking the same question, done shortly after Osama bin Laden was killed, found 59% opposition, with 37% support. The poll has been done regularly, and opposition to the war has increased 7 percentage points since Obama took office.

In a November CBS News poll, 53% said the United States should not be involved in Afghanistan, while 36% said the United States was doing the right thing by being there (11% were unsure). An August Quinnipiac poll asking the same question found 58-35% opposition. That’s a reversal from when Obama took office, when 59% said the U.S. should be there, and 35% said we should leave. In a May Gallup poll, 59% said “the United States has accomplished its mission and should bring its troops home,” while 36% said “the United States still has important work to do in Afghanistan and should maintain its troops there."

The average of these five polls, the latest polls on Afghanistan, all done after Osama bin Laden was killed,  find 58% oppose the war and/or want the United States to leave, while 36% support the war and/or want the United States to stay.

That’s a 22% gap, or a 22% winning margin on average if the question were put on the ballot.

More specifically, is there support for withdrawal?

The clearest support for rapid withdrawal came from a June Pew poll that found 56% support for withdrawing troops as soon as possible, versus 39% for keeping troops there until situation stabilizes. That’s an 8 percentage point shift from a month earlier, before Osama bin Laden was killed, when the same question was polled and found a narrow 48-47% margin for withdrawal. (In June 2010, there was 53-40% support for staying, and in February 2008, 61-32% support). Two-thirds of Democrats (67%) now say troops should be removed as soon as possible, up from 43% a year ago. A majority (57%) of independents also support immediate troop withdrawal, an increase of 15 percentage points from last year. Among Republicans, 53% support keeping the troops there, while 43% favor withdrawal (a year before, 65% were in favor of staying, while 31% wanted to withdraw).

A June CNN poll asked more specifically about withdrawal: 39% supported withdrawing all the troops (up from 23% two years earlier); 35% wanted to withdraw some of the troops (up from 22% in May 2009); 18% wanted to keep the same number of troops (down from 27% two years earlier); and 6% wanted to increase the number of troops (down from 26% two years earlier). The total for withdrawing all or some troops is 74%; for no withdrawal, 24%. That’s in contrast to two years ago, when 53% were opposed to any withdrawal.

The Pew poll cited above is a bit vague in asking whether people supported withdrawing “as soon as possible.” An October CBS News poll asked more specific questions. It found 38% support for withdrawal in less than a year and 24% for withdrawal in one to two years. Two percent wanted to leave now, a volunteered answer. The total support for withdrawing in less than a year is 40% (meaning it will be a majority in strongly Democratic areas), and in two years or less is 64%. Support for withdrawal from two to ten years was at 12%, while staying “as long as it takes” was at 18% (a drop from 26% two years earlier). Thus, there was 30% support for continuing the war.

Based on previous a previous CBS poll asking the same question, nine months into Obama’s term, in September 2009, there was 55% support for withdrawing in two years or less. If measures had been on the ballot in November 2009 calling for withdrawal, even within two years, we could be out of Afghanistan today.

The public supports Obama’s plan to withdraw troops,
but 40% want a faster withdrawal

In the summer of 2011, President Obama announced that 33,000 U.S. troops would be withdrawn by the summer of 2012, or a third of the 100,000 or so U.S. troops there. Four polls showed an average of 75% support for the decision, with one poll showing majority support (59%) for even faster withdrawal. A July Quinnipiac poll found  75-19% approval; a June CBS News/New York Times poll found 79-17% support; a June ABC News/Washington Post poll found 73-23% support for “withdrawing a substantial number of forces this summer” (interestingly, a poll taken before bin Laden was killed found the same level of support); a January USA Today/Gallup poll found 72-25% support for “Congress should speed up withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan” (essentially support for the Obama plan).

The June CBS News/New York Times poll asked more specific questions about the Obama plan. Fifty-nine percent said more than a third should be withdrawn by summer 2012, calling for a faster withdrawal than Obama planned; 10% said it should be less than a third; and 26% supported a third of U.S. troops being withdrawn.

In November 2010, President Obama announced that the United States would withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. A May AP/GfK poll asked: “Do you approve or disapprove of President Obama’s decision to begin withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 and end U.S. combat operations there by 2014?” That received 80-15% support, with 5% undecided. Asked more specifically, 57% said the pace of withdrawal was about right, 26% said it was too slow, and 15% said it was too fast. (That contradicts the June CBS News/New York Times poll mentioned in the previous paragraph, where 59% wanted a faster withdrawal than Obama was planning.) A November 2010 USA Today/Gallup poll found that 38% wanted the troops to be withdrawn faster than Obama planned. (The average of the three, 59% faster, 38% faster, 26% faster, is 41% want a faster withdrawal timeline than Obama is proposing. Given the trend in polling, that figure can be expected to grow.) A May NBC News poll, after bin Laden was killed, asked about leaving some American troops in Afghanistan till 2014: strongly approve 17%; somewhat approve, 35%; somewhat disapprove, 20%; strongly disapprove, 26%. That totals 46% disapproval to 52% approval, although when you add somewhat approve (a weak level of approval), it adds up to 81% not strongly enthusiastic. A November 2010 USA Today/Gallup poll asked about support for President Obama’s plan to complete withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014: 20% agreed with the timetable; 38% wanted a faster withdrawal; and 40% agreed that no timeline should be set. (It was a November 2010 poll, so it may not be as relevant.)


The effects of not putting withdrawal from Afghanistan
on the ballot

There are three forces involved in how fast the United States will withdraw from Afghanistan: the U.S. military, President Obama (if he is reelected), and American public opinion (leaving aside the Afghani people and the international dimension for the moment). What the polling on Obama’s 2014 plan shows is that the public is willing to go along with an actual withdrawal plan that sets a longer withdrawal deadline than they support when they are asked directly how long they want U.S. troops to stay. This is another indication that if the peace movement does not put a faster withdrawal plan on the ballot, that Obama and the military will set the pace, just as they did in Iraq, and the public, distracted by more important issues (the economy), will reluctantly go along with it. Also, that President Obama will not have the public support, established by a direct vote for withdrawal, to push back against the military and insist on a faster timeline. A public that has voted for a faster withdrawal than Obama is planning, however, will be able to put pressure on a hopefully Democratic-controlled Congress in 2013 for getting out of Afghanistan faster.

The effects of putting withdrawal on the ballot

Extensive polling into people’s attitudes toward withdrawal will be needed. In particular, one aspect that has not been asked about is bringing the money being spent on the war home to meet human needs here, to create jobs, and to help heal wounded veterans. This should increase support for a faster withdrawal. The total for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars last year was $126 billion; at least $90 billion of that was for Afghanistan.

A vote here for withdrawal in 5-6 states and numerous cities in November 2012 will increase support for a swifter end to the war internationally. First, it will encourage pressure in European countries to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan. The more U.S. allies leave, the more pressure there will be on the United States to leave. Second, it will encourage peace negotiations between the United States, the Taliban and other forces, and the Afghan government. Withdrawal deadlines should not be contingent on negotiations—intransigent positions by the United States could prolong the war—but they could also be important in ending the war in a better way. The United States will demand, correctly, that the Taliban and other forces not allow al Qaeda and other terrorists to be based in Afghanistan. That’s something they can readily agree to, and this will meet the requirement of the U.S. public for leaving Afghanistan—that attacks on the United States not be planned and launched from there. It may also lead to a peace agreement that includes reconstruction funds for the damage the U.S. military and NATO have done to the country. It should be noted that in European countries a majority supports withdrawal and negotiations, with a larger plurality for negotiations. Thus, it may be important to include language about negotiations, as well as withdrawal, in any ballot measure. Finally, a vote in this country could lead to calls by Afghanis for a vote there to end the war and speed U.S. withdrawal.

It’s essential that the war in Afghanistan, unlike the war in Iraq, be ended in part through direct votes to do so in the United States by millions, if not tens of millions, of Americans. At a minimum, the fastest possible withdrawal and end to the war depends on such votes.

International attitudes toward withdrawal from Afghanistan

It’s important to factor in international support for an end to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Here is the summary of an international poll conducted in December 2010 and January 2011 (before Osama bin Laden was killed):

The results of the GlobeScan/PIPA poll of more than 24,000 people indicate that more would prefer to see NATO negotiate with the Taliban on a peace agreement that would include them in the government (40%) than favor either a continued effort to defeat the Taliban militarily (16%) or an immediate military withdrawal (29%). The most common view in 18 countries is that NATO should negotiate, in 3 that NATO should withdraw and in just one that NATO should seek a military victory. In two other countries opinion is divided.

The poll was conducted between December 2, 2010 and February 4, 2011, which was before the killing of Osama Bin Laden by US forces.

The poll suggests that support for continued military action is low among the countries contributing to the current NATO war effort in Afghanistan. Across the ten countries surveyed who have contributed troops to the operation, only 23 per cent of those asked think the alliance should persist with its military strategy, while 30 per cent favor an immediate pullout and 37 per cent would rather see a negotiated settlement. NATO member Germany and Afghanistan's neighbor Pakistan emerge as the countries most likely to want an immediate withdrawal of forces—nearly half (47%) of those polled favor this option in both countries.

The results suggest that even Americans are ambivalent about a continuation of the Afghan conflict—while a higher proportion in the USA than in other countries (42%) support a continued effort to defeat the Taliban militarily, a majority of Americans favor either an immediate troop withdrawal (23%) or a negotiated peace settlement with the Taliban (29%).”

The URL is: This.

Afghanis’ attitudes toward withdrawal and negotiations

According to a poll conducted in December 2010 by the Washington Post, ABC News, the BBC, and German ARD, 55% of Afghans want foreign forces to leave. Only 6% have a very favorable view of U.S. troops. There’s 73% support for negotiating with the Taliban and anti-government forces. Even though only 9% want to see the Taliban return to power, Afghanis are sick of the war. They trust Afghan forces to provide security over U.S. and foreign forces, by 77-36%. They still, by 74%, support the U.S. ouster of the Taliban. The United Nations is still the most trusted international force, at 55%, although support is dropping. It should be noted that this poll was done over a year ago, and Afghan opposition to the occupation has increased since then.

The URL for this report is this pdf. A summary is here.

Preliminary Notes on an Afghanistan Ballot Measure

These are some very preliminary thoughts on a possible ballot measure calling for withdrawal from Afghanistan. The basic components need to be polled, and the language discussed by peace organizations and developed. A suggested goal is to have it on the ballot in a dozen major cities for the November election, and maybe a few Democratic states.

(Keep in mind that while we in the peace movement may not like language like “the U.S. has accomplished its mission in Afghanistan” that such phrases are often necessary to win over an important sector of voters.)

“After ten years, the longest war in U.S. history, the United States has accomplished its mission in Afghanistan: Osama bin Laden is dead and al Qaeda is a shadow of its former self. Almost 1,800 U.S. troops have been killed and 15,000 have been wounded, and tens of thousands of Afghani civilians have been killed. It’s time to bring the 100,000 U.S. troops home and invest the $100 billion annual cost of the war here at home, in jobs, including for the returning troops, to fund the needs of state and local government, to address climate change, and heal wounded soldiers.”

The ballot will need specific language about withdrawal. There are three possible approaches to withdrawal: (1) direct our representatives to vote only for the safe, orderly, and speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops. (2) all U.S. troops will be withdrawn one year from the date of this election (or at the end of 2013). Obama’s plan is to withdraw combat troops only by the end of 2014. A one-year withdrawal is slightly faster than national polls show the public wants, but it’s likely a majority in Democratic areas, and public support for withdrawal, and faster withdrawal, is growing. One factor that has not been polled is support for bringing the money home to address needs here, especially for jobs, which polling in other areas has shown increases support for a policy. (3) in addition to either 1 or 2, to add a clause about negotiations. Majorities in Afghanistan, and in the European allies with troops in Afghanistan, support a negotiated end to the war.  This could include language like “We also need to negotiate with the forces fighting against us, under UN auspices, so that they will agree not to support or give safe haven to al Qaeda or other groups that could attack the United States.”