March 15, 2010


The Politics of National Security: A Wake-up Call: The First Democracy Corps-Third Way National Security Survey Shows Erosion in Public’s Trust of Democrats on National Security – and Shows How to Reverse the Trend (Democracy Corps, 3/15/10)

Although the public continues to give the president strong ratings on a range of national security issues – indeed, above his overall approval rating – there is evidence of rising public concern about the president’s handing of these issues. Historical doubts about the Democratic Party on national security show signs of reviving and many voters worry the president and his administration are not dealing forcefully enough with terrorist suspects. Additionally, the troubled economy is driving down public perceptions of America’s strength and standing in the world. [...]

The decline in both the presidential and Democratic approval ratings on security issues has been driven, at least in part, by strong Republican attacks on some specific policies and actions:

The Christmas Bomber: The administration’s response to the Christmas Day terrorist attempt has contributed to the erosion. While public polling showed that initial approval of Obama’s response above 50 percent,[3] two months of Republican criticism have taken a toll – now, a narrow 46 to 42 percent plurality of likely voters say they feel less confident about the administration’s handling of national security because of how it responded to the incident, with views splitting largely along partisan lines. And when phrased as a partisan attack, a 60 percent majority of likely voters feels more confident about the Republicans on national security in response to this message:

Republicans say: “Democrats are insisting that terrorists be treated like American citizens, with full legal protections, like Miranda rights. But we should put the safety of Americans before the rights of terrorists, and we should be using all our toughest interrogation techniques to fight back against these terrorists who are trying to kill us.”

Detention/Prosecution of Terrorists: Whereas a majority of the public approves of the job President Obama is doing in most aspects of national security, a 51 to 44 percent majority of likely voters disapproves of his efforts on the “prosecution and interrogation of terrorism suspects.”

Iran: There is also public concern about developments in Iran. In the wake of continued intransigence by Tehran about its nuclear program, as well as protests by the Iranian opposition, a 49 to 42 percent plurality of America’s likely voters express disapproval of the way the president is handling security issues related to Iran.

While ratings for the president may be softening, his party is facing an even more troubling trend. When the questions move beyond the president to Democrats generally, we see that the public once again has real and rising doubts about the Democrats’ handling of national security issues, as compared to their faith in Republicans. This security gap, which has roots stretching back to Vietnam, was as wide as 29 points earlier in the decade. The deficit began to close in 2006, with the Bush administration’s catastrophic mismanagement of Iraq and other national security challenges. As public hopes about the Obama presidency rose and peaked, the gap all but vanished. Last May, Democracy Corps found Democrats essentially tied with Republicans (41 to 43 percent) on the question of which party would do a better job on national security.

But now the gap shows signs of re-opening, with Democrats trailing by 17 points, 33 to 50 percent on which party likely voters think would do the better job on national security. The erosion since May is especially strong among women, and among independents, who now favor Republicans on this question by a 56 to 20 percent margin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 15, 2010 7:04 PM
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