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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democracy Corps: National Security “Gap” Closed

In an important new survey, Democracy Corps shows that the Republican advantage on trust in handling national security issues, which has been a staple of American politics since the Vietnam War era, has vanished, at least for the moment, in no small part due to strong approval of President Obama’s policies.
The shift has been dramatic, particularly in certain key demographic groups:

Less than six years ago, in August 2003, Democrats lagged by 29 points on this key metric, effectively ruling them out as a credible alternative on national security for many voters. The shift has been especially dramatic for key likely voter segments:
* Moderates. 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, especially unmarried women. Women trusted the GOP more on national security by 20 points in 2003; now they trust the Democrats more by 17 points. The shift is the strongest among unmarried women.
* Younger voters. Voters under age 30 trusted Republicans more on national security by a 27 point margin in 2003; now they trust Democrats more by 18 points, 50 to 32 percent. This strong margin of trust among younger voters could signal the start of a lasting generational shift on this set of issues.

Barack Obama’s role in eliminating the “national security gap” is pretty clear. As the DCorps analysis shows, the President’ job approval rating on national security (64% favorable) is actually higher than his overall job approval rating (58%). And given efforts by Republicans led by Dick Cheney to claim that the new administration has already made Americans less safe, it’s striking that “by a strong 48 to 26 percent margin, likely voters believe that President Obama is doing better, rather than worse, than President George W. Bush when it comes to national security policy.”
Obama is earning high approval marks on an array of specific policies as well, including his handling of Afghanistan (68%), Iraq (67%), “leading America’s military” (65%) and “fighting terrorism” (61%).
There are some significant areas where public skepticism of the administration holds, most notably towards his stated goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. As is well known from other survey, a slight majority of Americans are also unsure about categorically ruling out torture of terrorism suspects in certain circumstances.
All in all, the survey is very good news for Democrats, and also provides yet another chunk of evidence undermining Republican claims that George W. Bush’s spending policies are the only source of their current political problems. Bush and company managed to turn national security from an enormous source of strength to a handicap in a few short years. President Obama and Democrats generally are taking advantage of that opportunity.

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