Americans Divided Over Deal To Release Bowe Bergdahl

06/05/2014 10:59 am ET | Updated Jun 05, 2014

A new HuffPost/YouGov poll has found that Americans are slightly more likely to disapprove than approve of the recently negotiated prisoner exchange that released Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl over the weekend, and that, more generally, there is little support for swapping potentially dangerous prisoners for American prisoners of war.

But the survey also suggests that the revelation of further details about the circumstances of Bergdahl's capture could play a major role in how the public comes to see the deal over time.

Thirty-five percent of Americans in the new poll said they approve, and 39 percent said they disapprove of the deal that freed Bergdahl, while another 26 percent said they weren't sure.

The poll shows a partisan divide over the deal. Democrats were largely in support, by a 48 percent to 19 percent margin, while Republicans opposed it by a 61 percent to 26 percent margin. Independents also tended to be opposed, 41 percent to 30 percent.

But the poll shows only 38 percent of Americans say that they've heard a lot about the deal to gain Bergdahl's freedom, as compared to 41 percent who said they had heard a little. The results suggest opinions about the swap might change as more details come to light.

The exchange has come under fire in recent days, both because of the potentially dangerous Taliban prisoners who were released by the U.S., and because of accusations leveled by former members of Bergdahl's unit that he was captured only after deserting his base. Critics have also accused the Obama administration of "negotiating with terrorists," although the government of Qatar was directly responsible for negotiating the deal.

Even if the United States had taken the lead, however, respondents largely did not object to the general practice of negotiating with a terrorist group for the release of a U.S. soldier. A 48 percent to 30 percent plurality of Americans said the U.S. should negotiate with terrorist groups for the release of a captured soldier. Democrats were the most likely to support such negotiations, 65 percent to 15 percent, and independents also were more likely to support than oppose them, 42 percent to 31 percent. A plurality of Republicans said the government shouldn't negotiate, by a 47 percent to 36 percent margin.

On the other hand, only 26 percent of respondents said they think it's acceptable for the U.S. to swap suspected terrorists who are considered a risk to the United States for the release of a U.S. soldier. Forty-nine percent said they think that's unacceptable. Sixty-five percent of Republicans and 50 percent of independents, but only 35 percent of Democrats, said such a prisoner swap was unacceptable.

The Taliban was classified by the U.S. as a terrorist organization by executive order in 2002.

The circumstances of Bergdahl's capture, as more details come to light, may also be crucial to shaping public opinion on the deal. High-ranking current and former officials, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and former Gen. Stanley McChrystal, have warned the American public against jumping to conclusions about Bergdahl's disappearance since allegations surfaced that he may have deserted.

Poll respondents said by an 82 percent to 5 percent margin that the government has a responsibility to rescue a soldier who gets lost and is captured by the enemy. On the other hand, they said by a 50 percent to 24 percent margin that the government does not have the responsibility to rescue a soldier who was captured after deserting his post.

Democrats, Republicans and independents were all more likely to say they think the government does not have the responsibility to rescue a deserting soldier than to say that it does. By contrast, more than 80 percent of all three groups said the government has the responsibility to rescue a soldier who was captured after getting lost.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted June 2-4 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here.

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