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New Democracy Corps Survey on Nat. Security

New Democracy Corps Survey on Nat. Security
by Scott Winship

Democracy Corps -- part of boss Stan Greenberg's vast polling empire -- released a strategy memo yesterday based on a new national security survey they conducted last month. You'll be hearing more about this survey this fall, but for now you can check out the memo and some top-line survey findings.

The Republicans are basically in no better shape now than they were on Memorial Day. In the aggregate, Democrats hold a narrow lead when respondents are asked which of the named candidates they will vote for in Congressional elections. Over 6 in 10 likely voters think the country is headed in the wrong direction, basically unchanged from recent months (the steady increase since 9/11 having plateaued). Fifty-five percent of likely voters disapprove of Bush's performance. The number who approve -- 41 percent -- is smaller than the number who strongly disapprove (45 percent). In the fifty most-competitive districts, the number who strongly disapprove rose from 36 percent to 47 percent. In these districts, Democrats' aggregate lead is growing and has reached a majority of likely voters.

The GOP has tried to use gay marriage and immigration as issues to fire up their base and flip swing voters, but "illegal immigration" comes in 7th on a list of most important issues, and "moral values" comes in 9th. Iraq and terrorism are basically tied for most important. Want to guess which of these the Administration will try to exploit this fall?

Many Democratic critiques of the Bush Administration's Iraq policies resonate with the public, including charges of mismanagement of the war, the assertion that it has no plan moving forward, and the accusation that Iraq has taken away from the effectiveness of the war on terrorism.

But there are a few reasons for worry. Half of the Democracy Corps sample was asked whether they felt warm or cool toward "the Republican Congress" and half about "the Congress". While just 26 percent were warm toward "the Congress", 38 percent were warm toward "the Republican Congress". This is the opposite of what we'd expect to see if voters were mainly fed up with the GOP. And corruption ranked dead last among ten issues when respondents were asked which were most important to their vote.

Furthermore, the number of voters indicating that terrorism was one of their top two concerns jumped 9 percentage points since the spring. And even though their advantage has declined, Republicans are still trusted more on this fundamental issue, 48 to 33 percent. The DCorps memo emphasizes that Democrats narrow these gaps after respondents are given security questions that contrast the Democratic and Republican messages, especially among Independents and in swing districts. But even then Republicans lead Democrats on terrorism and national security (nationally and among Independents) or are tied with them (in swing districts). Democrats are given the edge in terms of who would do a better job in Iraq only by a two-point margin (not statistically different from a tie).

The memo recommends an emphasis on changing the course in Iraq, implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, working toward energy independence, rebuilding international ties, and demanding accountability for Republicans failure to prioritize keeping America safe.

I think that if the election were held today, I'd feel pretty good about our chances. But I do worry that the Administration can create political traps -- such as the one in the making regarding the move of al Qaida leaders to Guantanamo and the Administration's demand for military tribunals. I also worry that the real-world competition between Democratic and Republican messages is poorly captured by the poll-testing of head-to-head position statements. The Democrats' position on Iraq matches the public, but the public doesn't give either party the edge on future plans there, and it trusts the GOP more on terrorism. Haven't I seen this movie before? I don't remember that it has a happy ending. Hope the sequel is better....