New Polling: Is GOP Terror Plan Working? genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Up & down

The funny thing about polling is that most people endorse the results if they like them but if they don't they tend to discount their meaning. Such is the nature of bias and the less than objective manner in which partisanship is played out on a daily basis. Nonetheless, we remain obsessed with polling and this week has brought a new round of information to dissect.

Two new polls seem to suggest that the President and the GOP may be benefiting from the recent terror plot in England as well as their efforts to paint the Democrats as weak on security and ready to abandon the Iraqi effort. CNN released a new Opinion Research poll yesterday and a new USA Today/Gallup poll was released Tuesday.

Both polls indicate that the President's approval ratings may be trending upward with each putting the Bush approval number at 42%. Should other polls confirm the trend, it may be the first sign that the GOP strategy to focus on the war on terror and the fact that Democrats are more inclined to withdraw from Iraq may be having some impact on voter sentiment. The most interesting number found in both polls is from the USA Today/Gallup data in which the apparent lead of Democrats over Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections seems to be shrinking.

In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday, support for an unnamed Democratic congressional candidate over a Republican one narrowed to 2 percentage points, 47%-45%, among registered voters. Over the past year, Democrats have led by wider margins that ranged up to 16 points.

The boost may prove to be temporary, but it was evidence of the continuing political power of terrorism.

"The arrests reminded people that terrorists were out there, and this is his strong suit," says political scientist Gary Jacobson of the University of California, San Diego. Now, as in 2002 and 2004, Bush and GOP congressional candidates argue that they can be better trusted to combat terrorism.

The alleged plot to bomb flights to the USA "also changes the subject of public discussion from the war in Iraq, which people are not very happy about," says Christopher Gelpi, a political scientist at Duke University.

While it is difficult to conclude the impact of specific issues or activities on polling, the 2002 and 2004 elections seem to support the notion that terrorism has proven to be a powerful tool for the GOP in retaining control of the government. It appears that November may well turn on which Party is more effective in focusing voter awareness. If the Democrats can keep voters focused on their dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq (as seems to have been the case in the Connecticut primary) they may well be able to win control of the House and possibly the Senate. However, if the Republicans can keep voters focused on security and the war on terror and continue to portray leaving or failing to succeed in Iraq as a concession to terrorists, they may well be able to retain control.

Thought Theater has previously discussed the possible impact of "terror management theory" on individuals and therefore their voting habits. If the GOP is able to employ the underlying fear that is associated with the theory, they may well be able to overcome what has until recently appeared to be an insurmountable Democratic advantage.

Daniel DiRito | August 22, 2006 | 8:42 AM
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