Campaign 2016

Public Opinion on National Security: Self-Inflicted Wounds

By Elizabeth McElvein
Friday, August 5, 2016, 2:24 PM

As a tumultuous week for the Trump campaign draws to a close, a new Fox News poll released Wednesday evening shows Hillary Clinton with a ten-point lead over her Republican rival. This topline has made headlines and led to speculation as to whether the Trump campaign can recover from a series of self-inflicted wounds, including the candidate’s controversial response to the family of Army Capt. Humayun Khan and refusal to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain in their respective Republican primaries.

In addition to capturing ebbs and flows in public opinion during a raucous election, the Fox News poll underscores the enduring importance of national security to the American public, a topic I discussed in greater detail in a previous post. Asked which is the most important issue facing the country today, “terrorism and national security” ties with “jobs and the economy” as the most oft-cited issue, identified by 22 percent of respondents. (Education is a distant third at 11 percent.)

Asked which candidate would do a better job handling a given issue, Hillary Clinton frequently outperforms Donald Trump by a significant margin. On education policy, for instance, Clinton leads Trump by 23 points (58 to 35 percent). Asked which candidate would better handle national security and terrorism, however, the Fox News poll results indicate a dead heat between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

An equal share of Americans (47 percent) identify Donald Trump as identify Hillary Clinton when asked which candidate would do a better job handling national security and terrorism. This split is intensely partisan: 85 percent of Democrats identify Hillary Clinton as the candidate that would do a better job, while 86 percent of Republicans identify Donald Trump. Independents identify Clinton over Trump by a margin of 55 to 32 percent. Asked which candidate would do a better job making decisions about using nuclear weapons, Americans identify Clinton over Trump by a considerable margin (56 to 43 percent). However, Trump enjoys a nine-point lead over Clinton (51 to 42 percent) in response to a question about which candidate would do a better job destroying terrorist groups like ISIS.

A recent YouGov survey provides additional nuance to Americans’ views on Trump’s capacity to serve as Commander-in-Chief. Most Americans (54 percent) oppose Donald Trump’s recent call for Russia to uncover Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, but the question breaks along sharp partisan lines: 80 percent of Democrats believe that Trump’s call was inappropriate, while just 22 percent of Republicans agree. More independents believe Trump’s calls were inappropriate than appropriate, by a margin of 48 to 32 percent. Asked about Donald Trump’s posturing toward Russia, 40 percent of Americans say he is too friendly and 4 percent say he’s not friendly enough. 27 percent say he’s about friendly enough, while 29 percent say they’re not sure. At the onset of the general election, U.S.-Russia relations have become yet another partisan issue coloring an already fractious debate over which candidate would best serve as Commander-in-Chief.