We Republicans like to believe that we are winning the debate that has broken out on national security, not just on the merits but in the view of the voting public. And this may well be true on certain important discrete issues.
However, a poll by Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research (a polling firm aligned with the Democrats) finds that, as a general matter, Democrats are at full parity with Republicans on perceptions of which party would best manage national security. They note that this is the first time Republicans have not been ahead on this issue.
In addition, Democrats are ahead of Republicans on the specific issues of Iraq and Afghanistan. And 64 percent of likely voters approve of the job Obama is doing on national security. This a better rating than his 58 overall approval rating (again per Greenberg’s polling firm).
These results aren’t particularly surprising. After all, the U.S. hasn’t been attacked or visibly set back militarily in the four months that Obama has been president, but our ailing economy has showed few signs of recovery and in some respects is getting worse. Thus, it stands to reason that likely voters are happier with Obama on national security than they are with him overall.
The Democratic pollsters say that these results signal a possible “generational shift in attitudes” that could “deprive Republicans of their last remaining advantages.” I think this is correct. If our national security appears to be maintained under Obama’s presidency, this is almost certain to help the Democrats. But, of course, if the threats that the Bush administration successfully combatted (or, for that matter, other threats) appear, then the Republicans will likely regain their old advantage and maybe then some.
It’s not just national security that is up-for-grabs politically. Perceived success or failure on any major set of issues — including those where the Dems traditionally have had the political advantage — is likely to change or reinforce the public’s view of which party is best equipped to deal with that set of issues.
That’s basically how it has always worked, I think.
JOHN adds: That’s right. Events, as always, are in the driver’s seat. If events suggest that we are completely safe regardless of which party is in power, national security is no longer an issue. That would be great, but it isn’t likely to prove true.
When a party is out of power, it gets to be “someone else.” If a voter is unhappy with any aspect of what happens in Washington (or in the economy or around the world) it is easy to imagine that the other guys could do better. Eventually they get their turn; that’s when reality sets in. The biggest political risk, from the Republicans’ standpoint, is that the tragic consequences of the policies the Democrats are now in the process of implementing may not appear quickly enough for the Democrats to get the blame they deserve.