- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2003

Despite the media’s daily dollops of negativity and the persistent partisan pounding by Democrats, the American people continue to trust President Bush and his leadership managing the war on terrorism. Yet, an overwhelming majority wants anti-terrorism efforts focused more on security threats here at home. Those are some of the major conclusions of the most recent version of The American Survey (conducted Sept. 11-16 among 800 registered voters nationwide, with a margin of error of 3.5 percent).

With respect to homeland security, while those surveyed were typically positive about the overall effort (52 percent said that the federal government is doing a “good” or “excellent” job), respondents were about evenly split on whether the administration’s attention to homeland security is being diverted by Iraq (50 percent agree, 46 percent disagree).

Here, as elsewhere, there is a considerable difference between men and women. More than half (54 percent) of the women surveyed believe that attention is being diverted by Iraq. Men are more likely to see the effort as integrated, with just 46 percent classifying the Iraqi war as a diversion.

The Democrats’ strategy of driving the issue towards increasing the size and reach of the federal government also appears to be working. Almost three-quarters of all respondents (70 percent) think we should spend more resources on homeland security. This sentiment was consistent across all demographic groups; even among self-identified conservatives, who split about 71 percent to 25 percent in favor of spending more resources on homeland security.

These sentiments are non-trivial. Voters believe another attackis essentially inevitable, with more than nine in ten saying that another attack is either a certainty (21 percent), very likely (44 percent) or somewhat likely (27 percent).

With respect to the Iraq conflict itself, perhaps the most surprising and informative result is that, despite the ongoing problems, there is not much evidence that the voters are ready to leave anytime soon. About one in three don’t want us there (8 percent said that we should leave now; another 25 percent said that we never should have been there). The remaining two-thirds think we need to stay until it is done (37 percent), or finish it up and leave within a year (29 percent). Moreover, there is a sense of proportion about Iraq: About 60 percent of the respondents thought that the situation in Iraq was about as they expected it; only 28 percent said it was worse than they expected.

These results are fairly solid and suggest a maturity and sense of realpolitik among the public about the Iraqi conflict that is not present among either the media or the Democrats.

At the same time, the news is not unalloyed for the administration. There is some resentment about the price tag — when asked whether the $87 billion should be spent in Iraq or the U.S., respondents overwhelmingly said the United States. There is some skepticism about democracy-building (48 percent said such efforts would succeed; 46 percent said they would fail). Finally, there is some sense that the sales pitch may have been over the top. When asked whether President Bush intentionally exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq prior to the war, respondents were closely split (43 percent yes, 48 percent no). For a president whose credibility means everything, this bears close watching.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the president retains a comfortable margin over the Democrats on this issue. When asked who they trusted the most to manage the war on terrorism, voters chose the president over the Democrats (45 percent to 32 percent).

In sum, while the Democrats have succeeded in pecking away at certain issues (especially homeland security), it appears that they have yet to make a convincing case that they would do a better job than the president on the sine qua non issue of the next campaign.

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