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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 04:00 PM ET, 12/14/2011

Poll watcher: Will attacks on Obama’s foreign policy hold water?

Sharp attacks on President Obama’s foreign policy from GOP presidential contenders may be a gamble given Obama’s relative popularity and broadly praised success routing out terrorism.

Since the death of Osama bin Laden at least six in 10 Americans have approved of Obama’s handling of terrorism, according to Washington Post-ABC News polls. And more than half the public in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday cited bin Laden’s killing or bringing troops home from Iraq as the Obama administration’s most positive accomplishment; about half as many chose domestic achievements.

But how thick is Obama’s Teflon on foreign affairs? Beyond terrorism, polls show, he may be vulnerable.

While Obama earns overwhelmingly positive marks on his handling of terrorism, his ratings on foreign policy in general are more lackluster. The public split 47 to 45 percent on Obama’s handling of international affairs in the aforementioned Post-ABC poll. And a Quinnipiac University poll of registered voters in the same month showed 49 percent approving of Obama on “foreign policy,” 42 percent disapproving.

Obama enjoys mildly positive ratings on Iraq and Iran in November CNN and Quinnipiac polls but the public splits evenly on his handling of Afghanistan.

The Republican primary electorate is naturally more open to criticisms of Obama on foreign policy. While one in three Republicans approve of Obama’s handling of terrorism – four times the number approving of his overall job performance – fully three quarters of Republicans disapprove of Obama on international affairs in general. Nearly as many disapprove of Obama on Afghanistan, and two in three disapprove of Obama on Iran.

Even after Republicans pick a candidate, Obama’s sky high ratings on terrorism are not a complete foil to attacks on other aspects of his foreign policy. Among political independents – a key swing voting group – Obama earns 42 percent approval for his handling of international affairs. A 51 percent majority of independents approve of Obama’s handling of Iraq, and 46 percent give him positive marks on Afghanistan. By comparison, more than six in 10 independents approve of Obama on terrorism.

As we’ve noted before, voters say the economy and jobs are far and away the most important issues in their 2012 vote, bad news for Obama who earns especially weak ratings on the issue. Should an international crisis take center stage in 2012, though, Obama may not be on much better footing.

Foreign policy Wednesdays: Most Wednesdays we will feature a special poll watcher analysis of American public opinion on foreign policy. The series will be cross-posted at  Foreign Policy Magazine’s Election 2012 page .

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By  |  04:00 PM ET, 12/14/2011

Categories:  Barack Obama, International polls, GOP nomination

 
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