PRINCETON, NJ -- The Republican Party has expanded its historical edge over the Democratic Party in Americans' minds as being better able to protect the U.S. from international terrorism and military threats. At this point, 55% of Americans choose the GOP on this dimension, while 32% choose the Democratic Party. This is the widest Republican advantage in Gallup's history of asking this question since 2002.
The latest update on this 12-year trend comes from Gallup's Sept. 4-7 Governance poll, finished just days before President Barack Obama's speech to the nation Wednesday night, in which he outlined his plans for addressing the challenges presented by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other international threats.
Republicans have held a perceptual edge on this question in all but two of the 12 years that it has been asked -- 2007 and 2012. The GOP's edge has been significant in many of the other years, although the 19-percentage-point gap measured in 2002, which was previously the largest, is eclipsed by this year's 23-point Republican edge.
The strong Republican advantage this year is most likely related to the increasing news coverage of ISIS and its beheadings of two American journalists. Although the Obama administration has initiated air attacks against terrorist positions in Iraq, the president's widely quoted comments that he had "no strategy" for dealing with the issue may help explain why Americans have become less likely to say the Democrats could better protect the U.S. from terrorism and military threats.
Republicans Have Edge as Party Better Able to Keep Country Prosperous
In addition to the GOP advantage on matters of security, Americans also give the Republican Party an edge as the party better able to keep the country prosperous, with 49% choosing the Republicans and 40% the Democrats.
This is one of Gallup's oldest measures of relative party strength, and, as might be expected, it has produced widely differing results over the years, mirroring changes in the relative strength of the two parties more broadly.
- Democrats held sway as the party better able to keep the country prosperous through most of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s -- a time when Democrats were the strong majority party in Congress.
- Republicans gained the upper hand on the measure during the Reagan years, but the two parties moved closer together, with ups and downs, during the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations.
- Democrats moved ahead during the George W. Bush years, in particular during his second term.
- The pattern has been sharply mixed during the Obama years, with the Democrats holding an edge in 2009 and 2012, but the Republicans having at least a slight edge in the other years.
The current nine-point GOP edge on this measure is up from 2013, but similar to where it was in 2010 and 2011.
Implications for Midterm Elections
While these measures are by no means perfect predictors of how well a party will do in a midterm election year, the Republican Party's strength this year does not bode well for Democratic chances to outperform already low expectations.
Gallup has a long trend on the "prosperous" question, and the chart shows the two parties' standings on this dimension in September before each of last five midterm elections, along with the outcome of the House vote in the corresponding year.
There is a clear relationship between these perceptions and the outcome of midterm elections, with the president's party losing substantial seats when it has a deficit as the better party for economic prosperity, even though each election has its own unique dimensions. These results are thus best seen as providing an estimate of the direction of an election, rather than any precise outcome.
The president's actions internationally and domestically in the coming weeks, and the actions or lack thereof on the part of Congress during the short time it will be in session before the elections, could both affect the election's dynamics. But the historical pattern suggests that the GOP's current edge as the party better able to keep the country prosperous and safe from terrorism would translate into gains in the midterm elections -- if Americans' perceptions of the two parties stay pretty much as they are now over the next two months.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 4-7, 2014, 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, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
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 of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone 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 to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.