President Obama’s mishandling of foreign policy and terrorism is shaping up as the defining issue for the 2016 Presidential campaign, an ominous sign for Democrat frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
Almost three-quarters of American voters want the next President to take a different approach than the incumbent, Obama, a number not seen since the waning days of the George W Bush Presidency, according to a new NBC/WSJ poll.
Only a quarter of voters want the next President to follow Obama’s approach to policies, while 73 percent want a new direction. These numbers are essentially equal to feelings about George Bush at this point in this Presidency.
President Obama’s approval ratings are nearing their historic lows in the NBC poll, last reached in September 2014, just two months before Republicans won a landslide midterm election. Only 43 percent of Americans approve of the job Obama is doing as President. A majority, 51 percent, disapprove.
It should be noted that this approval rating is among all adults, not just registered voters. Polls of adults are generally more favorable to Democrats than those of voters or likely voters. His personal approval ratings have also dropped. Just 44 percent of Americans have a positive view of Obama, while 46 percent have a negative view. These numbers are also nearing the lowest of his Presidency, reached in 2014.
American’s views of Obama are tinged inexorably by his perceived weakness in foreign policy and combating terrorism. For the first time in years, national security and terrorism are the top issues for voters. Concerns about terrorism even eclipse worries over the economy; 40 percent of Americans say terrorism is the most important issue today, while just 23 percent say it is the economy.
In April, the economy and jobs were by far the most important issue for Americans.
It is particularly striking that terrorism surpasses the economy as the top issue since less than a quarter of Americans, 24 percent, expect the economy to improve over the next year. The economy remains a difficult issue for Obama. It is simply that concerns over his handling of terrorism are far more serious for Americans.
Just 37 percent approve of his handling of foreign affairs. Even fewer, 34 percent, approve of his handling of the crisis in Syria and Iraq and the rise of the radical Islamist group ISIS. This seems to be reverberating onto Hillary Clinton. Although she still dominates her primary race against Bernie Sanders, her share of the vote has been decreasing. There has also been a steady increase in the number of Americans who say they could never support her and a drop in her personal approval ratings.
Given the headlines of the past several weeks, Obama’s poor ratings on foreign policy isn’t entirely surprising. It comes, though, in spite of a full-court press by the White House to show Obama’s leadership and redirect the political dialogue to issues like gun restrictions and climate change.
Looking below the headline numbers on Obama’s approval rating, though, shows an American public deeply skeptical of Obama’s policy priorities. Although 71 percent of Americans believe mass shootings are now a normal part of life today, according to this poll, a strong majority of the public worries that the government will go too far in restricting gun rights.
Twenty years ago, Americans were far more concerned that the government wouldn’t do enough to restrict access to guns. That is a fundamental change in the public’s attitude, and not in a direction that helps Democrats pushing for more gun restrictions.
A big majority of Americans, 55 percent, also worry that the government won’t do enough to monitor the activities and communications of terrorists and potential terrorists in this country. Just 40 percent worry the government may go too far. These numbers echo those reached in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
These attitudes, on guns and worries about home-grown terrorists, go directly against recent messages from Obama, the White House and Democrats. Their messages in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have been to curtail access to guns and resist calls to, in their words, “target” Muslims or refugees and immigrants with heightened security.
Perhaps these most damning number for President Obama, however, is revealed when Americans are asked about a particular quality they want to see in a President. Just 39 percent of the public wants a President to “stand for his convictions”, the lowest ever recorded in the poll. A strong majority, 56 percent, want a President who “seeks common ground.”
At a similar point in the Presidency of George W Bush, when he was deeply unpopular, more Americans wanted a President to stand on his convictions rather than seek common ground.
The difference is that, increasingly, American’s don’t agree with Obama’s “convictions.”