A majority of Americans say the United States is less respected in the world than two years ago and believe President Obama and other Democrats fall short of Republicans on the issue of national security, according to a poll by two left-leaning groups.
The Democracy Corps-Third Way survey released Monday finds that by a 10-point margin — 51 percent to 41 percent — Americans think the standing of the United States has dropped during the first 13 months of Mr. Obama's presidency.
"This is surprising, given the global acclaim — and Nobel peace prize — that flowed to the new president after he took office," the pollsters said.
The Democratic Party also plummeted on national security. A May survey by the pollsters found that the public saw the Democratic and Republican parties as equally able to handle national security (41 percent trusted Democrats more and 43 percent trusted Republicans more). On conducting the war on terrorism, the two parties were tied at 41 percent.
But the latest poll shows a massive gap, with Democrats trailing by 17 points, 33 percent to 50 percent, on which party likely voters think would do a better job on national security.
"The erosion since May is especially strong among women, and among independents, who now favor Republicans on this question by a 56 to 20 percent margin," the pollsters said in their findings.
More surprising was the huge gap on "right-track, wrong-track." Just 31 percent of those polled feel the country is on the right track; a whopping 62 percent say the United States is on the wrong track.
"We would not want the election to be held today, with this poll," said Democracy Corps' chief pollster Stan Greenberg. "If the election were held today, this would be a 'change' election."
The Democrats' national security credentials are under assault on several fronts:
• "Keeping America safe" — Democrats now trail by 13 points (34 percent to 47 percent); the gap was just five points in July 2008.
• "Ensuring a strong military" — Democrats trail by 31 points (27 percent to 58 percent).
• "Making America safer from nuclear threats" — Democrats trail by 11 points (34 percent to 45 percent), "despite the president's strong actions and speeches on steps to reduce nuclear dangers," the pollsters said.
"The Obama strategy of speaking loudly and carrying no stick has caught up with this White House, and it is beginning to remind voters of Jimmy Carter all over again," said Republican strategist Scott Reed. "Carter reinforced the caricature of weakness abroad and gave the GOP dominance in the national security arena for decades."
One Democratic strategist said general displeasure among Americans is likely driving down poll numbers.
"Americans remain in an unhappy mood, which is going to drive down a lot of numbers across the board for many different issues, including international affairs," said Democratic strategist Bud Jackson. "Add to that a need for the White House and national Democrats to more effectively communicate."
While Mr. Obama received strong ratings in the poll on his handling of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the pollsters said in a memo that "historical doubts about the Democratic Party on national security show signs of reviving and many voters worry the president and his administration are not dealing forcefully enough with terrorist suspects."
The poll of 851 likely voters, conducted Feb. 20-24, found that "the administration's response to the Christmas Day terrorist attempt has contributed to the erosion" of approval ratings on national security. The Obama administration drew criticism from Republicans for treating the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, as a normal criminal suspect instead of a wartime enemy.
"While public polling showed that initial approval of Obama's response above 50 percent, two months of Republican criticism have taken a toll - now, a narrow 46 to 42 percent plurality of likely voters say they feel less confident about the administration's handling of national security because of how it responded to the incident," the pollsters said.
In addition, the detention of terrorist suspects and the Obama proposal to prosecute suspects in civilian courts in New York City — including Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - also have taken a toll on the president's approval ratings.
"Whereas a majority of the public approves of the job President Obama is doing in most aspects of national security, a 51 to 44 percent majority of likely voters disapproves of his efforts on the 'prosecution and interrogation of terrorism suspects,' " the pollsters found.
Democracy Corps calls itself "an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to making the government of the United States more responsive to the American people." It was founded in 1999 by former Clinton adviser James Carville and Stanley Greenberg, a leading Democratic pollster.
Third Way calls itself "the leading moderate think-tank of the progressive movement."