Americans are concerned about the Obama administration's approach to national security, with ideology a major influence on where they stand. As liberals support Obama's policies, nonliberals back tougher approaches.
These are the key findings from the latest IBD/TIPP poll of 923 Americans completed on Jan. 9. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Twelve percent of Americans list national security as the second-most important issue facing the country. Only the economy and jobs rank higher, with 49%.
An overarching read of the poll data is that Americans view administration policies as soft. Only liberals support them.
Security issues raised by the Christmas bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, are a case in point. Lawmakers last week questioned the wisdom of trying Abdulmutallab in civilian courts instead of a military tribunal.
It's not clear whether Abdulmutallab, a potential treasure trove of intelligence, was read his Miranda rights too early, before the intelligence agencies extracted all the intelligence from him. That becomes more relevant since Abdulmutallab told the FBI he'd been trained and armed by al-Qaida operatives in Yemen and that we could expect more bombers coming from that country.
Most Americans (61%) are against giving Miranda rights to captured terrorists; only 31% support the policy. By ideology, 74% of conservatives and 54% of moderates oppose it. But a majority of liberals (51%) support the policy.
The ideological split can also been seen on whether the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be closed. This is a priority issue for the administration, but Americans overall continue to oppose closing Gitmo by a 2-to-1 margin. Conservatives oppose closure by 81% to 9%, and moderates by 53% to 36%. Only liberals support closing the facility, by 60% to 28%.
Another example is the prosecution of U.S. officials who ordered enhanced interrogation techniques against captured terrorists. Most Americans have consistently opposed the idea. In our latest poll 58% oppose prosecution and 32% support the action.
Conservatives oppose prosecution 68% to 23%, and moderates are 57% to 36% against. But liberals favor the action 54% to 38%.
How does Obama compare with his predecessor on national security? A year ago, nearly one-half (49%) of Americans said the policies of the Bush administration made the U.S. safer from terrorism. For the current administration, this measure dropped to 26% in July 2009, 28% in September, 29% in October and 26% this month.
Over the same time, the share of Americans who feel either "very safe" or "somewhat safe" has also declined. Four of five Americans (82%) stated they felt safe a year ago. The same metric declined to 73% in July 2009, to 69% in October and to 67% this month.
In addition to specific actions, symbolic moves, such as replacing the term "war on terror" with "overseas contingency operations" and "act of terror" with "man-caused disaster," might also be contributing to the perception of administration policies as soft.
In sum, the appeal for the administration's policies is limited to liberals who make up just 16% of the electorate. Most Americans identify themselves as conservatives (50%) or moderates (34%).
Last Tuesday's special Senate election in Massachusetts is an example of the popularity of tougher policies. Senator-elect Scott Brown came across as being tougher on terror than his opponent. He also stated he did not believe waterboarding was torture.
• Mayur is president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which directs the IBD/TIPP Poll that was the most accurate in the last two presidential elections.