A new Democracy Corps-Third Way survey shows opportunities for progressives to deliver an effective message on national security during this campaign season, even in the face of a very negative political environment and new signs the Republicans plan to attack Democratic candidates on national security. President Obama and his administration continue to receive relatively positive ratings on their national security performance, and the public remains relatively supportive of the administration’s strategy in the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There remain real obstacles, however, to making an effective case on these issues. Persistent concerns about the economy continue to undermine the public’s confidence about America’s standing in the world, and Democrats’ efforts to bolster it. And as the electoral environment tilts more Republican, the public’s confidence in Democrats, as a party, on national security is showing signs of erosion.

Democracy Corps-Third Way National Security Survey-Memo

Democracy Corps-Third Way National Security Survey-Results

Key Findings

As always, the best way to win public support on national security issues is through sound policies; messaging is no substitute for effective actions on the world stage. Yet Democrats should welcome a debate on national security and not shy from it. The strongest Democratic messages tested consistently beat the strongest Republican messages. The new survey points to several specific ways that progressives can present a strong national security narrative that resonates with voters, including:

  • Stress the steps the Obama administration and Democrats have taken to improve conditions of military service and increase the effectiveness of our troops.
  • Highlight the success of the Obama administration in the war on terror, especially the record number of al Qaeda operatives and allies captured or killed since January 2009.
  • Give the public a clearer understanding of the military mission in Afghanistan, and be aware that the public - including Democratic base voters - favor continuing the war effort rather than immediately ending it.
  • Stress the Obama administration accomplishments on national security that most resonate, especially strengthening the military, gains in anti-terrorism, and bolstering America’s alliances abroad.
  • With regard to the proposed mosque and cultural center in Manhattan, stress that whatever people think about the project, government and public leaders have no place taking steps to block it.


The survey was based on telephone interviews with 1,000 2008 voters, conducted between September 11-14, 2010. The survey included interviews with 835 respondents who are likely voters for the 2010 elections, and all figures in this report refer to the “likely voter” results unless otherwise noted. The margin of sampling error is approximately +/-3.1 percent for results from the full sample, and approximately +/- 3.4 percent for results from likely voters.

Source: Stanley Greenberg, Jeremy Rosner and Third Way

Client: Democracy Corps and Third Way