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Barack Obama's Handling of Libya Attacks Considered A Weakness By Voters: Poll

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US President Barack Obama (R) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) participate in the second presidential debate in Hempstead, N.Y. on Oct. 16, 2012, moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley. (AFP PHOTO/Saul LOEB) | Getty Images

Barack Obama has received strong marks throughout his presidency in most public opinion polls asking about his handling of foreign policy. But on the verge of the third and final presidential debate, a new HuffPost poll has found that the president's handling of the attacks on the US mission in Benghazi is a potential weakness within what has been a strong issue area for Obama.

The new survey found that a 41 percent to 32 percent plurality of US adults do not approve of Obama's handling of the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. Obama's approval on the issue is starkly divided along party lines, with Democrats approving 63 percent to 9 percent and Republicans disapproving 80 percent to 7 percent. A 41 percent to 24 percent plurality of independents said they do not approve of Obama's handling of the issue.

The poll, conducted for The Huffington Post by YouGov, was conducted on Oct. 18-19 among 1,000 adults and has a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points. The survey was conducted online using a sample drawn from YouGov's opt-in online panel that is selected to match a random sample of adults drawn from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Other polls have found that foreign policy is a strength for Obama. Currently, The HuffPost election dashboard estimates that 50 percent of Americans approve of Obama's handling of foreign policy, while 45 percent disapprove. By contrast, HuffPost estimates Obama's approval rating on the economy at 46 percent, with 51 percent disapproving of his performance on that issue.

While more respondents disapproved than approved of Obama's handling of the Libya attack in the new HuffPost/YouGov poll, Obama was slightly favored on which candidate would better handle similar situations in the future: 42 percent said they thought Obama would better handle the security of US embassies abroad, while 34 percent said Romney would handle it better. Among independents, 30 percent said Obama would better handle security and 28 percent said so of Romney.

According to the survey, the candidates have mostly succeeded at distinguishing between their views on foreign policy ahead of the foreign policy debate. Sixty percent of respondents to the poll said they already see a clear distinction between Obama and Romney on the candidates' foreign policy views. Another 12 percent said there was no clear distinction, and that attitude was more common among younger adults -- 19 percent of those under age 29 said there was not a clear distinction, while only 5 percent of those over age 65 said so. Younger adults were also much more likely to say they weren't sure if there was a clear distinction, with 40 percent of those under 29 saying so. In contrast, only 28 percent of respondents overall and 12 percent of respondents over 65 said they were unsure if there was a clear distinction.

YouGov's general population samples are selected from its panel to match the distribution of demographics and other characteristics in the adult U.S. population: Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children (from the 2010 American Community Survey), voter registration, time and location of internet access (from the Current Population November 2010 and October 2009 supplements), interest in politics, religion, and church attendance (from the Pew Religious Landscape Survey of 2008).

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