Obama Makes Historic Gains On National Security Polling

06/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Sam Stein Senior Politics Editor, The Huffington Post

President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party as a whole have made historic gains in public trust when it comes to national security and foreign policy, according to a newly released survey by Democracy Corps.

The findings, which show Obama's approval rating on national security affairs at 64 percent among likely voters, should deal a blow to the assertions of his critics -- notably former Vice President Dick Cheney -- who contend that the president's policies have made the country less safe.

According to the Democracy Corps, which was founded by former Clinton administration officials James Carville and Stan Greenberg, Obama now has higher ratings on national security than he does in his overall job approval, which stands at 58 percent. Democrats, for the first time in the firm's research, are at "full parity on perceptions of which party would best manage national security."

Among many interesting data points include these:

  • 61 percent of respondents approve of the job Obama is doing fighting terrorism.
  • 67 percent approve of how he is handling Iraq.
  • 68 percent approve of his policies for Afghanistan, and the same number says the president is improving Americans stand in the word.

"The public flatly rejects the claims from former Vice President Cheney and other Republicans that Obama's policies put Americans at risk," the authors conclude. "A strong majority says Obama's policies are increasing US security -- compared to the majority who now say President George W. Bush's policies undermined America's security."

There are, however, several remaining areas of weakness. As the poll's authors write, "The one area in which Obama has not overcome public doubts about his party's stewardship of national security involves the leadership of the military," with "53 percent of likely voters having "serious doubts about the president and his national security policies." Moreover, "voters remain unclear on this mission in Afghanistan and suspect the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq will bring more violence."

That said, the results underscore a significant paradigm shift in the traditional perception of which party is favored when it comes to international affairs. Indeed, by and large, the favorable trends for Obama have filtered their way down to the Democratic Party.

  • Democrats are favored over Republicans by a margin of 52 to 35 percent on the question of which party better handles foreign policy.
  • Democrats are favored by a margin of 44 to 32 percent on the situation in Afghanistan; and 47 to 37 percent on the situation in Iraq.
  • On the war on terrorism, the two parties are trusted equally, 41 percent a piece.

Democrats do, however, "still trail significantly on the question of 'ensuring a strong military.' There, Republicans lead by 18 points, 53 to 35 percent."

If there were one additional element concern for the GOP in the study's findings. it would be this: many of the respondents who favored Obama's handling of national security and foreign affairs were those voters who will play major roles in deciding future elections.

According to the findings:

  • "Self-described moderates favored the GOP on national security by 25 points in 2003, but now favor Democrats by a decisive 23 points, 54 to 31 percent."
  • "Women trusted the GOP more on national security by 20 points in 2003; now they trust the Democrats more by 17 points."
  • "Voters under age 30 trusted Republicans more national security by a 27 point margin in 2003; now they trust Democrats more by 18 points, 50 to 32 percent.

The findings of the progressive leaning Democracy Corps were pulled from a survey of 1,000 2008 voters, including 160 of whom were interviewed via cell phone.

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