Republicans Losing Edge on Foreign Policy Issues
A new poll commissioned by NPR confirms what we’ve seen in other recent surveys: Republicans have lost their longstanding dominance on national security issues. This survey is particularly instructive, though, because it polls only likely voters; indeed, 99 percent of the respondents claim to have voted in 2004.
The survey found the president’s job approval rating at 39 percent (only 23 percent “strongly” approved) and the Democrats outpolled President Bush on all foreign policy subjects but Iran:
Interestingly, while the overall results were the same, the margins decreased when “the Republicans” rather than “President Bush” was offered as the alternate to the Democrats.
There’s no good spin to be put on this one if you’re a Republican.
Republican pollster Glen Bolger says that, from his perspective, the results are a “bunch of ugly numbers.”
“This is not the only poll that is showing significant problems for Republicans on the generic ballot, significant problems for the president,” Bolger says. “We’re in a hole, and we’re at a point where we’ve got to start digging our way out, as opposed to digging deeper.”
Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg says the numbers present Democrats with a real opportunity for electoral gains. “All of these issues are related to different kinds of foreign threats to the country,” he notes. “On every single issue, voters favor the Democrats. This is a different landscape — we were looking for 20-point advantages for Republicans on anything related to security. This ought to be the center of where you would trust the Republicans, and that’s not happening here. There’s clearly a new opening, new doubts about the Republicans and new openings for the Democrats.”
“One clear piece of evidence in the data is that Republicans benefited by showing some independence from the president on the ports deal,” Bolger says. “Democrats have a 16-point advantage over the president in terms of who [voters] trust, and only an 8-point advantage over the Republicans on the ports deal. So the Republican Congress’ stand of independence cut the Democratic advantage on this issue in half.”
While I maintain that, policywise, Bush was actually right and the Republican congressmen who deserted him were wrong on the ports issue, it’s certainly the case that the latter were on the right side politically.
What all this means for November, of course, remains to be seen. Still, there’s no doubt that Greenberg is in better position.
Democrats hope the president’s low approval ratings will continue to drag his party down. “It is because the president’s popularity is clearly the center of this,” Democratic pollster Greenberg says. “He’s defining the course for the Republicans. They’re going to try to separate. I think that’s difficult for them to achieve.”
Republican pollster Bolger acknowledges that GOP lawmakers face a “careful calculus” in deciding on which issues they will seek to distance themselves from President Bush.
That’s always the case, given that congressional races are usually decided on local issues. The question is whether this year will, like 1974 and 1994, be different. Is the groundswell of public frustration strong enough to nationalize the election with a “throw the bums out” furor? I still doubt that.
The good news for the Republicans is that, thanks to computer-aided gerrymandering, there are very few truly competitive districts. One would like to have a little more than that to cling to, however.
The full survey is available in PDF format here.
Full disclosure: My wife is a VP at Bolger’s firm, Public Opinion Strategies. I first learned of the poll when I heard the story on Morning Edition.