Achilles' Heel For Administration? Fewer Feel Safer From Terrorism

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With the attorney general considering the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Bush administration methods of enhanced interrogation, and congressional Democrats suggesting an investigation of CIA Director Leon Panetta's claims that the agency withheld information from Congress, President Obama might want to consider a new IBD/TIPP Poll that shows Americans are troubled by his approach to national security.

The survey shows that despite his continuing high approval ratings at 58.1 on the IBD/TIPP Presidential Leadership Index (see chart above), just one in four Americans, or 26%, now believe the president's polices have made America safer from terrorism.

Party Line

By contrast, a similar poll conducted in January found that 49% believed President Bush's policies had made the U.S. safer, despite significantly lower overall job approval ratings for Bush at 33.5 on the leadership index.

The IBD/TIPP Poll of 925 Americans was conducted in the second week of July, when a dozen U.S. government Web sites, including those of the White House, Pentagon and State Department, were targets of a cyberattack. The poll has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points.

Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they believe Obama's policies have made the country less safe from terrorism, and 41% said they had no impact one way or the other.

Not surprisingly, the results were sharply partisan, with 47% of Democrats, 6% of Republicans and 19% of independents believing that Obama's policies have made the U.S. safer. By comparison, 29% of Democrats, 75% of Republicans and 48% of independents believed that Bush's policies had made the U.S. safer.

Bush's Mess

The poll indicates a slight slippage among those who say they feel safe from terrorism, from 82% during the Bush presidency to 73% in July under Obama.

The January 2009 survey indicated that 20% said they felt "very safe" and 62% reported they felt "somewhat safe" compared with 19% and 54%, respectively, today.

Americans have traditionally perceived Republicans as stronger on national security than Democrats. Obama has already taken a number of controversial steps that may account for the increased perception of vulnerability to terrorists.

He has been sharply critical of the Bush administration's approach, charging in May that "we are cleaning up something that is quite simply a mess."

In one of his first acts as president, Obama announced his intention to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Recent polls show that most Americans oppose such a move. They fear moving detainees to stateside prisons and believe that Guantanamo has strengthened national security.

The administration has also officially jettisoned the highly resonant term "global war on terror" because, as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano explained, " 'war' carries with it a relationship to nation-states in conflict with each other, and of course terrorism is not necessarily derived from the nation-state relationship." Napolitano also said that "in some respects 'war' is too limiting."

The president has been lukewarm about his predecessor's plans for missile defense, proposing to reduce spending by more than $1 billion. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a possible 2012 Republican contender, has charged that backing away from missile defense and depleting the defense budget to fund new social programs, particularly in the face of global turmoil, would put America at risk.

Poor Report Card

The White House has been vocal in its condemnation of "enhanced interrogation techniques," including waterboarding. An IBD/TIPP Poll conducted in May showed that a majority of Americans (57%) did not favor prosecuting officials who ordered enhanced interrogation techniques against captured terrorists. Less than one-third (31%) favored prosecution of U.S. officials - 43% of Democrats, 18% of Republicans and 27% of independents.

Asked to assign Obama a letter grade on the issue of terrorism, most gave a C or below, with 27% giving him a C, 12% a D and 14% a failing grade of F; 14% gave him an A, and 25% assigned a B grade.

Nearly two-thirds of Democrats (65%) gave an A or a B compared with only 19% of Republicans and 30% of independents.

Mayur is president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which directs the IBD/TIPP Poll that was the most accurate in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.

 

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