Mitt Romney’s escalation in recent days of his criticism of President Obama’s foreign policy raises the question: Can the GOP nominee seize the upper hand over his rival when it comes to making the case to voters on national security?
Perhaps — but polling shows that over the past four years, foreign policy has fallen far from its prominence in the minds of voters.
Asked to name the single most important issue in their choice for president, a total of 24 percent of respondents in an April 2008 Washington Post-ABC News poll cited issues related to foreign affairs: 18 percent cited the war in Iraq, 5 percent named terrorism/national security and 1 percent named foreign policy.
Now, four years later, the percentage of voters who cite international issues as their top concern is one-eighth of where it stood in 2008.
In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, a combined 3 percent of respondents named a foreign-affairs-related topic as their number-one issue. One percent cited terrorism/national security, 1 percent cited the war in Afghanistan and 1 percent cited foreign policy.
What does it amount to for Romney?
Well, it’s a reminder that while the United States faces considerable foreign-affairs challenges such as the escalation of violence in Syria, international issues are a much smaller factor in the minds of American voters than in the 2008 election.
That — combined with a war-weariness that transcends partisan lines — could make it difficult for Romney to draw a meaningful contrast with Obama on international issues.
It’s worth noting, of course, that a foreign policy crisis could change the calculus in an instant, reshaping the race and providing fresh and unpredictable challenges for both White House contenders.