In their Politico article “Democrats and National Security,” TDS advisory council member Jeremy Rosner, executive vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Matt Bennett, co-founder and vice president of Third Way provide critically-important insights for strengthening the party’s image. Bennett and Rosner explain:
Slightly more than 10 days ago, a U.S. airstrike killed Sheikh Said Al-Masri, Al Qaeda’s third in command. He was the highest level Al Qaeda operative to be “removed from the battlefield,” as the military puts it. The Wall Street Journal actually said in its editorial: “another success for the Obama administration.”
The Journal isn’t alone here. A national opinion poll by Democracy Corps and Third Way released Thursday shows that such battlefield successes are broadly popular – when the public knows about them. They serve to raise public trust in the ability of President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party to handle national security.
“When the public knows” is always the prerequisite for successful image-building and improvement in public opinion. It doesn’t matter how much good the Party does, if the achievement is not well-publicized. Moreover, say the authors:
This is also true for the fight against terrorism at home. When Democrats tout the administration’s effective response to the Times Square bombing, for example, a strong majority — 59 percent of likely voters — say they feel more confident about the party on national security.
According to the survey, add Rosner and Bennett,
The public responds strongly when Democrats stress key aspects of their record over the last 18 months and their vision going forward…This even includes areas where the public has historically lacked confidence in Democrats, like leading the U.S. military. This new survey shows that when Democrats speak directly about their efforts for the troops — including increased pay, providing more time between deployments and putting better weapons into the battlefield — more than two-thirds of respondents say they feel more confident about Democrats’ handling of national security.
By contrast, the public is relatively cool to a range of messages that Republican leaders are now using on this. The best Democratic national security messages out-score the best GOP messages by a dozen points.
…In particular, we tested comments that House minority leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and minority whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have made recently, and they fared poorly…Boehner’s claim that the Obama administration has been “lucky” that recent terrorist attacks in the United States have failed lags behind the Democratic message on the alleged Times Square bomber by 15 points.
Meanwhile, Cantor’s point that the Obama nuclear policy has “put America at risk” made 52 percent of likely voters less confident in Republicans, compared to only the 41 percent made more confident.
The Dems’ edge in the survey is even more impressive, say the authors, because Republicans still hold an overall lead on national security issues, including “a 13-point lead over Democrats on the question of which party is more trusted on national security,” which the authors believe “underscores the need for Democrats to make their case more effectively.”
In addition to national security concerns, the public is highly anxious about economic security, with only one out of five survey respondents holding positive views of the economy. Interestingly, the lack of confidence in the economy adds to concerns about national security:
…This survey confirms our February finding that a strong majority – now 58 percent – rejects the argument that “America remains the strongest and most influential country.” Instead, they say “America is losing its global leadership” as China and other countries grow economically and hold more of our debt.
The public continues to see U.S. economic strength as the strongest factor pulling down our world standing – well ahead of things the left and right typically cite, like “Obama apologizing for past U.S. policies” or “treatment of prisoners at places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.”
Accordingly, the only Republican message we tested that really lands with the public is on the economy.
Bennett and Rosner go on to note that the Obama Administration “emphasizes the importance of “renewal” at home as an element of national strength,” and they urge Dem candidates to do likewise, “integrating their plans for economic revival into their narrative on national security,” even as they urge “a muscular message about U.S. successes in the fight against terrorism.”
This is an astute and important insight. A strong national security profile includes both a determination to eradicate terrorism, evidenced by concrete achievements, coupled with a credible, uncompromising commitment to widely-shared economic uplift. With such a commitment, the Democratic Party will lay a solid foundation for a growing majority.