Some interesting results from the latest poll from Angus Reid Strategies.
When asked whether Canadian troops should leave Afghanistan before, in, or after 2011 (as is scheduled), a surprising 48% believe that the troops should be pulled out before 2011. Only 35% believe we should stick to our pledge of 2011, and a mere 7% believe we should stay.
Regionally, Atlantic Canada and Quebec are most for pulling out before 2011, with 55% and 54%, respectively. Only more people in the Prairies believe that we should leave as scheduled than pull out early. It's a little unexpected. Most support for staying after 2011 comes from Alberta (11%).
When asked if Afghanistan will be able to look after itself without the help of other nations after 2011, only 16% believe this is so, while 48% believe it is not. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the regions which most believe Afghanistan can handle it (Atlantic Canada and Quebec) are the regions which pushed for an early withdrawal.
When asked whether Canadians agree or disagree with the decision to stay until 2011, 41% agreed and 52% disagreed, with similar regional breakdowns. Only 30% of Quebecers agreed with the 2011 idea (34% in Atlantic Canada), and a whopping 66% disagreed in Atlantic Canada (59% in Quebec). The decision only has majority support in Alberta and the Prairies, while a majority are against it in the two easternmost regions as well as Ontario.
When asked what Canadians think the Afghanistan mission is, 30% said a mission of peace while 47% said a mission of war. The regional numbers were more or less consistent with what we've already seen, but it is interesting to note that Quebec had the most "not sure" responses (29%), probably representing the linguistic divide and the comparatively low coverage of the war in francophone media.
56% of Canadians still believe the Harper government has not effectively explained the mission, compared to 33% who believe it has. Not surprisingly, people in the blue regions of Alberta and the Prairies felt he explained it best.
A virtual consensus (69%) believe that Canada is shouldering too much of the burden, with more or less even regional breakdowns. Only 12% believe Canada is not shouldering enough.
Nevertheless, 51% of Canadians believe that the Afghan people are benefiting from our involvement in the country, compared to 26% who don't. There is no major regional difference, though Quebec and Atlantic Canada are the only regions without more than 50% who believe the Afghan's are benefiting. One important note may be that only Quebec has more than 30% (32% to be exact) who believe the Afghan people are not benefiting from Canada's involvement.
From a political point of view, this poll demonstrates quite clearly that Afghanistan is still a divisive issue in the country, but also an unpopular one. The regional breakdowns for or against the mission mirror the regional breakdowns for or against the Conservatives - it is clearly seen as a Conservative issue. Unsurprising, then, that the mission finds its least support in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, where the Conservatives have their worst polling results nationwide.
As always, there is that delicate balance to play. If the Conservatives want to increase their support in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, they have to speak more harshly about the mission. But that puts support in the West and Ontario at risk. The Liberals, who have a gray-area position on the mission, are likely in the best place to be, since people seem unsure of their views on the war. The Bloc Quebecois is in tune with Quebec's anti-war attitude, and the NDP are clearly within that margin that is highly critical of the Afghanistan mission. How the Conservatives and Liberals manoeuvre on this issue could be important, but the Conservatives have drawn their line in the sand far more deeply than Michael Ignatieff has.
Note: With no polls, there are no projection updates. C'est la vie.