President Obama’s ratings on foreign policy have slipped, but not as much as in other areas
Foreign and Military Policy
Leery from the start about President Barack Obama’s military and foreign-policy experience, Americans still retain some of that skepticism about their president as the nation’s commander in chief one year into his term.
Yet after a year of bruising economic problems and domestic-policy debates, foreign policy actually has emerged as an area of comparative strength for Mr. Obama. By a 50%-to-37% margin, those surveyed in the new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll give him a positive rating for his handling of foreign policy, higher than his overall job rating and his rating for handling the economy.
Moreover, the 13-point positive differential between the share who approve and the share who disapprove of his handling of foreign policy is the most positive reading in his job appraisal. By contrast, he enjoys just a five-point positive differential on his overall job approval and a six-point negative gap between approval and disapproval on his handling of the economy.
Safety a Priority
Perhaps because of the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an American airliner, national security is climbing Americans’ priority list. In the new survey, national security and terrorism jumped to second on the list of voters’ concerns, with 17% citing that area as a top priority for the government, behind only job creation and economic growth. In the summer, only 11% called national security a top priority, behind job creation, the deficit and government spending and health care.
Some 56% now say they are either very or fairly worried that the U.S. will experience another major terrorist attack, up from 42% in October.
Views of Mr. Obama’s handling of terrorism are split down the middle, with 45% approving of his handling, essentially even with the 44% who disapprove.
In addition to new terror scares, Mr. Obama’s first year in office has seen the drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq and the commitment of tens of thousands of troops to Afghanistan, both issues central to candidate Obama’s foreign-policy promises. Mr. Obama also won the Nobel Peace Prize and engaged in international travel designed explicitly to raise the nation’s popularity in the world.
White House senior adviser David Axelrod divided Mr. Obama’s first-year mission into three parts: stabilizing the economy; securing the president’s domestic priorities, which he believes will strengthen the nation’s economic future; and restoring U.S. standing in the world, along with international cooperation on issues from terrorism to Afghanistan.
Of those three, the foreign-policy component has been arguably the most successful, Mr. Alexrod maintained.
“It’s been a very productive year in terms of foreign policy,” Mr. Axelrod said in an interview.
Still, in one critical area of foreign policy—as commander in chief of the armed forces—Americans rate the young president lower than they rate him as a person and an overall leader.
As Mr. Obama campaigned for president, he struggled to portray himself as the leader of the military. Running against a Vietnam war hero, Sen. John McCain, candidate Obama convinced only a third of Americans that he would be a good commander in chief in June 2008.
That figure soared amid the optimism that greeted his inauguration, when 55% said he would be a good or very good commander in chief.
After a year in the White House, Mr. Obama readings have dipped somewhat. Now, 49% give him a good rating as the commander in chief—compared with 72% who felt positively about the First Family, 64% who felt good about the president as a person and 54% who felt positively about Mr. Obama as a leader.
Gender, racial and ethnic backgrounds shaped opinions sharply. Only 42% of men felt positively about Mr. Obama as commander in chief, 38% of whites and 39% of those from small-town or rural areas. In contrast, 86% of African-Americans and 59% of Hispanics gave him positive mark