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The Incredible Shrinking National Security Gap

by Ruy Teixeira

While it is way too soon to say the Democrats are out of the woods on this one (see, for example, the results of the latest CBS News poll, which still show the Democrats with considerable ground to make up in several national security-related areas), it is nevertheless striking just how much the GOP’s formerly crushing advantage on national security and handling terrorism has been shrinking.

Exhibit A in this regard is the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. In this poll, Democrats actually have a one point advantage over the GOP (46-45) on handling the “U.S. campaign against terrorism”—a stunning improvement over the 36-point deficit Democrats faced in December 2002 (61-25 percent).

Another example of this trend is the most recent Ipsos-AP poll, where the Democrats are in a tie with Republicans (41-41) on “Who do you trust to do a better job of protecting the country” (41-41). Finally, consider this very interesting question asked by Garin-Hart-Yang Research for the DSCC:

Suppose for a moment that you were deciding your vote for Congress SOLELY on the question of who you trusted more to protect America's national security and have the right policies for combating terrorism. If this were the ONLY issue you were considering, would you be more likely to vote for a Democrat or a Republican?

The result: 41 percent said they’d vote for the Democrat and only 39 percent for the Republican. Somehow I don’t think this would have been the response a year or two ago.

If the GOP loses the national security card, what do they have left? What indeed. As GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio recently said, referencing the Ipsos-AP results: “These numbers are scary. We've lost every advantage we've ever had. The good news is Democrats don't have much of a plan. The bad news is they may not need one."

And what if Democrats did actually have a compelling plan on, say, national security? Fabrizio does not address this possibility, but presumably that would mean even bigger trouble for his party. Stay tuned: the saga of the incredible shrinking national security gap may not be over yet.