President Obama's decision to release Bush administration memos on controversial interrogation techniques highlights the sharp partisan divisions lurking beneath Obama's high approval ratings.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds most approve of the way Obama is handling the U.S. campaign against terrorism, including nearly four in 10 Republicans, but far fewer share his opinions on interrogation techniques used on those suspected of terrorism during the Bush administration.
Overall, a narrow majority approves of the Obama administration's release of the previously secret documents, 53 percent support the release, 44 percent oppose it. But Democrats and Republicans hold starkly different views on the matter, as well as on the use of torture in general and whether or not the new administration should investigate its predecessors for possible criminal activity in implementing enhanced interrogation techniques.
A majority of Democrats (55 percent) "strongly support" the president's decision to release the memos, while about six in 10 Republicans (61 percent) "strongly oppose" the release.
Basic views on torture divide the country nearly evenly - 49 percent said they oppose the use of torture no matter the circumstance, 48 percent said there are some cases in which the U.S. should consider it. Partisans align on opposite sides of the issue, with most Republicans (69 percent) saying they are open to torture in some cases and most Democrats opposing it in all cases (65 percent). Independents tilt toward considering it, 52 to 45 percent.
Opposition to the practice has declined across party lines since January; Only among liberal Democrats and moderates have views held steady. Conservatives have become sharply more open to the idea in the wake of the controversy over the release of the memos, 66 percent said the government should consider torture in some cases according to the new poll, it was 50 percent in January.
Americans are also divided on whether Obama should launch an investigation into the treatment of terrorism suspects under George W. Bush's administration. Just over half (51 percent) said there should be such an inquiry, 47 percent oppose it. Among partisans, views are sharply divided, with 68 percent of Democrats in favor of an investigation and 71 percent of Republicans opposed. Independents mirror the overall population, 50 percent in favor, 47 percent opposed.
Q. Obama has ordered the release of previously secret records of Bush administration policies on the interrogation of terrorism suspects. Do you support or oppose Obama's decision to release these records?
--- Support -- --- Oppose --- NET Strongly NET Strongly All 53 35 44 32 Dem 75 55 23 11 Rep 22 11 74 61 Ind 50 31 46 33 Lib Dem 87 64 11 5 Con Rep 15 8 83 71 Lib 80 59 17 9 Mod 56 34 41 28 Con 33 21 65 52
Q. Do you think the Obama administration should or should not investigate whether any laws were broken in the way terrorism suspects were treated under the Bush administration?
Should Should not All 51 47 Dem 68 30 Rep 26 71 Ind 50 47 Lib Dem 73 26 Con Rep 20 77 Lib 68 30 Mod 53 44 Con 36 62
Q. Obama has said that under his administration the United States will not use torture as part of the U.S. campaign against terrorism, no matter what the circumstance. Do you support this position not to use torture, or do you think there are cases in which the United States should consider torture against terrorism suspects?
------January------ -------April------- Never use Consider Never use Consider All 58 40 49 48 Dem 71 28 65 32 Rep 42 55 30 69 Ind 56 43 45 52 Lib Dem 77 22 76 22 Con Rep 36 60 27 71 Lib 72 27 67 32 Mod 57 42 56 41 Con 47 50 31 66