- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Americans trust Republicans and President Bush more than Democrats to safeguard the nation, fight terrorism and stimulate economic growth, the country's three biggest concerns, according to a new Democratic poll.
In a nationwide survey of registered voters for the Democratic Leadership Council conducted by President Clinton's former campaign pollster, Mark Penn, the DLC said Americans also supported Republicans more on other issues that included fiscal discipline, crime, moving people from welfare to work, and overall personal "values."
These were election issues "on which Democrats had made substantial gains during the Clinton years," Mr. Penn said. Now, he said, they are part of a broader erosion of issues that "bodes very ill for Democrats in 2004."
Democrats are trusted more on health care and strengthening Social Security, which have become less important in voters' minds since the September 11 terrorist attacks, the poll said.
The DLC poll also showed that Democrats held a slight edge over Republicans in next year's midterm elections, though other surveys showed the two parties running virtually dead even in the congressional races.
But much stronger public support for the Republicans on what the DLC calls "toughness-to-govern issues" places the Democrats in political peril for the next presidential election, Mr. Penn said in an analysis of his findings.
"There has been a major shift in the issues facing the country and the Democratic Party from a previous emphasis on education and health care to a new emphasis on fighting terrorism, keeping America safe and strengthening the economy," he said.
"At this stage in the war on terrorism, Americans have greater confidence in the Republican Party, and in President Bush in particular, than in the Democratic Party to lead that effort," he said. "Republicans are slightly favored when it comes to providing economic leadership and strongly favored on 'caring about economic growth.'"
Most troubling for the Democrats, both in next year's elections and in the 2004 presidential contest, is that "the public turns to the Republicans for leadership on the issues that require toughness and fiscal restraint, such as terrorism, national security and taxes," he said.
For example, Republicans in Congress were supported over the Democrats by 55 percent to 25 percent on the question of trust in fighting terrorism. The Republicans beat the Democrats by 55 percent to 31 percent on national security; 44 percent to 35 percent on maintaining fiscal discipline; 62 percent to 25 percent on strengthening the military; and 53 percent to 25 percent on protecting the United States from another terrorist attack.
Notably, the DLC poll showed that Democrats more effectively defined the Republicans' economic-stimulus plan than did the Republicans. It found that 60 percent of voters believed the Republicans' stimulus plan would more likely help "wealthy taxpayers and large corporations," while 29 percent said it would help "average taxpayers."
Still, support was strong for the Bush tax cuts enacted in May, with nearly 60 percent saying that the tax cuts should remain in place. But when asked if the tax cuts should be rolled back to deal with future deficits, 51 percent said they should and 48 percent said they should not.
Republicans led Democrats by significant margins on questions dealing with values. By a margin of 45 percent to 31 percent, voters said the attitude "makes me feel safe" applied more to Republicans than Democrats. The Republicans also led on patriotism by 41 percent to 24 percent and on honesty by 36 percent to 22 percent.
The DLC said "the erosion of Democratic strength on national security, crime and 'values' issues already was well under way by the 2000 presidential elections" but that the survey showed that "the erosion has continued, and has been supplemented by an even more alarming erosion of trust in Democrats on fiscal discipline and economic management."
"Given the president's unique responsibility for conducting foreign policy and providing for national security, the weakness of Democratic credentials in these areas represents a threshold challenge for the next Democratic presidential nominee in 2004," Mr. Penn said.

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