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Democrats Pull Even With Republicans as Better on Terrorism

Democrats Pull Even With Republicans as Better on Terrorism

PRINCETON, NJ -- The Democratic and Republican parties are tied at 45% in Americans' perceptions of which major party would do the better job of protecting the U.S. from international terrorism and military threats. Since 2002, the only other times that Republicans have not led on this measure were in 2006 and 2007, possibly due to public concerns about the Iraq war.

Party Better Able to Protect U.S. From Terrorism, September 2002-September 2012

The poll was conducted Sept. 6-9, one week after the Republican National Convention concluded in Tampa, Fla., and both during and after the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Several other Gallup measures from last week, including President Barack Obama's approval rating, U.S. satisfaction with the country, and voter preferences in the election indicate that views toward the Democratic Party were especially favorable during that time, likely owing to that party's convention.

Democrats Also Favored for Maintaining Prosperity

The same survey also finds the Democratic Party leading the Republican Party, 51% to 42%, in Americans' perceptions of which of the two parties would do the better job of keeping the country prosperous. This is a switch from recent years, as the Republican Party was narrowly favored in 2010 and 2011 on this measure.

Party Better Able to Maintain U.S. Prosperity, June 1980-September 2012

Gallup has asked this prosperity question since 1951. The Democrats led in most measures of it between 1999 and 2009. Between 1984 and 1991 -- spanning Ronald Reagan's second presidential term and the first three years of George H.W. Bush's term -- the Republicans were usually favored; however, in 1992, the preference for Democrats surged as consumer attitudes plummeted, helping to lay the foundation for Bill Clinton's victory over Bush.

Historically, Democrats have tended to win the presidency in years when Americans favored the Democratic Party on handling prosperity by a significant margin: 1960, 1964, 1976, 1992, and 2008. Republicans won in years when they statistically tied with or led Democrats: 1952, 1956, 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, and 1988. Exceptions to this occurred in 1996 and 2000. In July 1996, the two parties were roughly tied in public preferences for which was better able to maintain prosperity, yet Bill Clinton handily won re-election that year. In 2000, the Democrats led by seven percentage points, 47% vs. 40%, and Al Gore won the popular vote for president, but lost the election when George W. Bush prevailed in the Electoral College. Gallup did not ask the question in 2004.

Party Better Able to Keep U.S. Prosperous -- Presidential Election Years

Democrats Also the Party "Better" at Handling Nation's Top Problem

A broader measure of party preferences included in the Sept. 6-9 poll asks respondents to say whether they think the Republican Party or the Democratic Party would do a better job of handling whatever national problem they currently think is most important. This question is a follow-up to Gallup's open-ended Most Important Problem measure, which allows respondents to state, in open-ended fashion, what they think is the nation's top problem.

Democrats hold a 10-percentage-point lead on this measure, 49% to 39%. That is a reversal from 2011, when Republicans led 44% to 37%, but is similar to Democrats' lead from 2006 to 2009.

Party Better Able to Handle Nation's "Most Important Problem" -- March 1980-September 2012

Given that Americans' top concerns -- unemployment and the economy -- are economic in nature, and that Americans now see the Democratic Party as more able to keep the country prosperous, it is not surprising that Gallup finds Democrats leading on this measure. After those two issues, the next-most-common concerns are dissatisfaction with government, the federal budget deficit, and healthcare. These have ranked as the top problems for most of this year.

Bottom Line

In their responses to the murders of the American ambassador to Libya and other diplomatic officials this week, Obama and Mitt Romney have each attempted to convince Americans that they can better be trusted than their opponent to vigorously fight terrorism and protect Americans abroad. However, Romney's task is made more difficult by the fact that the Democratic Party's image on terrorism is at a five-year high.

At the same time, the Democrats lead in overall perceptions of which party can better handle the nation's most important problem. And the Democrats hold a critical advantage in perceptions of which party is more likely to maintain U.S. prosperity. This aligns Obama with almost every successful presidential candidate since 1956. However, while auspicious, it comes with the caveat that what goes up after political conventions often comes down, and it remains to be seen whether the good feeling toward Obama and the Democrats generated in Charlotte will continue for any length of time.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 6-9, 2012, with a random sample of 1,017 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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