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Obama Gets High Marks on National Security but Democrats Don’t

A new Democracy Corps/Third Way poll bills itself as a “wake-up call” for Democrats on national security. Last May, Democracy Corps found that Obama’s election had erased the Republicans’ traditional public opinion advantage on national security. What they’ve now found is that Obama maintains significant public support for his policies on foreign policy and national security, but the Democrats don’t.

Obama’s numbers on national security are strong almost all around. Fifty-eight percent of the public approves of his overall handling of national security. He has 58 percent support on Afghanistan. He has 55 percent support on handling terrorism. He has 54 percent support for his foreign policy. All of this comes with wide margins separating his approval on these issues from disapproval: Only 39 percent disapprove of Obama on national security, 37 percent disapprove on Afghanistan and 41 percent disapprove on terrorism. The only exception: Obama gets net negative marks for his handling of interrogations of detention: 46 percent approve and 49 percent disapprove. Democracy Corps’ poll is the first to show that more people feel less confident in Obama after the attempted Christmas bombing: 46 percent feel less confident while 42 percent feel more confident.

Generic Democrats do a lot worse. The public gives Democrats a net negative rating on national security — 43 percent approve and 49 percent disapprove. The Republicans once again have better numbers in this traditionally strong area for them, but not much better: 45 percent approve of the GOP on national security and 44 percent disapprove. Fifty-five percent of likely voters say they have a good idea what the Democrats stand for on national security, while 63 percent say they understand the Republican message.

“There’s a good deal of good news about the ratings for Democrats, the president and progressive ideas on national security,” pollster Jeremy Rosner said on a conference call with reporters, but “there’s clear danger of the historic Democratic deficit reopening.” Still, there’s “a real big opportunity by stressing tough actions and tangible results,” Rosner said, citing a 69 percent approval rating after voters hear about U.S. actions against terrorism in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. Meanwhile, the strongest GOP message tested — about Obama giving “full legal protections, like Miranda rights,” to terrorists — garners only 57 percent support.

“You must take these issues head-on,” Matt Bennett, the head of Third Way, warned Democrats. “They can turn national security to an asset in their campaigns.”

Not that many of them appear to be trying.

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