Jeremy Rosner
Third Way


National Security Memo (PDF - 95 K)

Full Survey Results (PDF - 15 K)


Executive Summary

New research by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, conducted for Third Way, finds that Democrats face major challenges and opportunities on national security in this election year.

The historic gap between the parties on national security, which dramatically closed in 2006, has begun re-opening in recent months. The opportunity for Democrats is that the public is deeply unhappy with the Bush approach to Iraq and other foreign policy issues, believing that recent Republican national security policies have been both ineffective and - from energy policy to the treatment of our troops and veterans - particularly harmful to the well-being of average Americans. The challenge is that large shares of the public still perceive Democrats as unwilling to use force, out of touch with the military, and too willing to put politics over principle on security.

The research suggests Democrats must place their criticisms of Republicans on national security within a more cohesive and compelling frame. The research shows the Republican approach to security should be characterized as a continuation of the "reckless and out of touch" policies of the Bush administration, while the Democrats' approach be described as "tough and smart."


Key Findings

  • Although Democrats were closing the gap with Republicans on national security from 2006-2007, the margin has widened again to 14 points in favor of the Republicans on which party will better handle “national security.” · Weaknesses for the Democrats on national security have historical roots, while doubts about Republicans are largely linked to more recent mistakes of the Bush administration over the last eight years.
  • The drivers behind this national security credibility gap include the perceptions that Democrats are indecisive and afraid to use force in the face of threats, are not supportive enough of the military, and follow public opinion instead of acting on behalf of the country’s best interests. · At the same time, descriptions of Republicans as “reckless” and “out of touch” stand out as strong weaknesses for the Republicans on national security as voters think about the Bush administration’s misreading of intelligence in Iraq and mishandling of the war and reconstruction process. Voters also see Republicans as out of touch with economic pains felt at home yet caused by Republican policies abroad, such as on energy.
  • To address this credibility gap on security, Democrats must show they will go on the offensive to protect the country, value the military, and enact a tough and smart agenda to keep the country safe. Democrats must also not invoke public opinion as justification for national security policies.
  • These characterizations have an impressive impact. When the characterizations of Republicans as “reckless” and “out of touch” and the Democrats as pursuing “tough” and “smart” policies are put together, voters side with Democrats in a head-to-head debate about national security policies by a strong margin - even stronger than their initial lead in the presidential and congressional ballot tests.



Greenberg, Quinlan Rosner conducted six focus groups with Independents and moderate-conservative Democrats in Denver, CO, Columbus, OH, and Virginia Beach, VA, in June 2008. We also conducted a national telephone survey of 800 registered voters, July 21-24, 2008 subject to a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent.