Politics and Public Opinion

What you may have missed in the polls … about Obama’s foreign policy

This week, Republicans Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie and Democrats Stan Greenberg and Jeremy Rosner wrote dueling articles on ForeignPolicy.com about Obama’s national security record, with the Republican team suggesting that the president is vulnerable and the Democratic team suggesting that foreign policy will be a plus for the president in November.

Our take is that it all depends on how the issue is framed and what’s going on in the world. Polls show that President Obama gets better marks on handling foreign policy than on domestic policy. But still, his ratings aren’t that strong. In the latest poll, for example, 46 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove (Quinnipiac).

In the February AP/GfK Roper poll, 48 percent trusted Republicans to do a better job on protecting the country while 40 percent trusted the Democrats. In the December 2011 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Republicans had a 3-point advantage on handling Afghanistan (26 to 23 percent) and a 13-point advantage on handling terrorism.

President Obama receives high marks for his planned troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. In a February Pew poll, a majority (53 percent) thought that Obama was handling removing troops from Afghanistan “about right.” Twenty-two percent thought he wasn’t withdrawing troops quickly enough. While Iraq receives scant news coverage, Obama receives positive marks for handling the situation there in all recent major polls.

At the same time, many of Obama’s foreign policy actions remain unpopular. A plurality of 49 percent told CBS News pollsters in November 2011 that the United States did not do the right thing by taking part in Libya. Thirty-seven percent thought the United States did the right thing. Only 33 percent approve of the way Obama is handling the possibility of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, in a January ABC/Washington Post poll.

Obama must also confront the growing concern over American decline. Sixty-four percent told Gallup in February that they are dissatisfied with America’s position in the world. A majority believe China is the world’s leading economic power. Only 10 percent felt that way about China in 2000.

Americans still see Republicans as stronger on foreign affairs than Democrats, but absent new events, President Obama may have addressed a familiar weakness of Democratic presidential candidates. At this very early stage of the campaign, polls suggest Obama has at least diffused a potential weakness. But it is still very early in the election cycle, and in today’s volatile geopolitical environment any number of potential events could make Americans reconsider their current thinking about the president.

4 thoughts on “What you may have missed in the polls … about Obama’s foreign policy

  1. Other than going after those who wished us ill in the Middle East, doing anything military to establish “democracy” in an Islamic country is turning out to be a mistake. The habits of thought and customs necessary for a republican form of government to be effective take generations to form. Giving a vote to people who lack that background and hoping for a good outcome was a fool’s errand. The reason why Obama looks good on Iraq is because we are out of there, and not because we have a stable ally and a bulwark against an aggressive Iran.

    As for Afghanistan, if we are in danger of being killed by the people we are trying to lead to what we see as a better life, I don’t see how we can win. If Obama arranged for every U.S. soldier to be out of that hellhole in a day and for every bit of materiel that we brought into the country to be vaporized, it would be counted as good in November.

  2. If this country has the misfortune to re-elect Obama, we’ll have the most Socialistic form of government that we’ve ever seen. More so than now. So far, I haven’t seen/heard one politician that I can believe. Sad for our country!

    • We will no longer exist as we do now. Obama is a crazy man and has done such a poor job being the dictator he has tried to be without getting caught. But when he has just four more years to tear America to shreds he will be in full swing. He is such a demon of a being and has not more conscience than a snake. We have seen so much so far as our nation has been at his beck and call. And there is so much we don’t know. If he doesn’t get defeated, then people with money will leave America like happened in Cuba and allow us to just live hand to mouth. There will be nothing left to be socialistic about. That takes some source of a government and people will leave this place to not be under his rule. God forbid he wins again.

  3. To Mr. Zimmerman:

    While I might agree with you about Afghanistan (the renewed focus on it after Iraq always seemed to me to be as much a political response to the left’s charge of that having been the “good, but neglected” war), I must respectfully disagree with the tired, conscending characterization of Iraqis as too tribal, too backwards to ever function as a democracatic nation.

    The example of Japan proves wrong your argument that dramatic cultural and economic changes cannot occur in a totalitarian socety, given strong, effective leadership that believes wholeheartedly (and has the backing of its country in this belief) in the instrinsic right of every person to property rights, religious liberty and economic self-determination. MacArthur, despite all his tremendous failings as a battlefield leader, did enforce and wrest monumental change out of a formerly feudal and imperialistic country–in seven years. He was helped, to be sure, by the demoralization brought upon the Japanese by their utter defeat, and thus their willingness to consider a totally foreign system–another way in which we have tied our military’s hands (with rules of engagement) in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq, and Republicans have failed to consistently articulate this, which is why the public doesn’t count it against him, and won’t in November absent better rhetoric.

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