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A Vote for National Security

By John F. Harris
Tuesday, January 25, 2005; Page A04

President Bush's reelection gave political analysts plenty to chew over, including a debate over whether cultural issues such as gay marriage or national security deserve greater emphasis in explaining Bush's victory.

Now there's more to chew on: a major poll and accompanying analysis by the Pew Research Center, which put the accent heavily on national security as the new principal fault line in the U.S. electorate.

In a December survey released yesterday, Pew found that 76 percent of Democrats but just 32 percent of Republicans agree that "good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace." Bush voters were far more likely to believe that "military force is the best way to defeat terrorism."

Another question likewise illuminated the difference in basic assumptions about use of force: Sixty-six percent of Republicans agreed that "We should all be willing to fight for our country, whether it is right or wrong"; 33 percent of Democrats endorsed that statement.

These gulfs have widened since Pew asked similar questions in the 1990s. "Republicans are now more hawkish and Democrats more dovish than at any time in the past two decades," the group said in announcing its survey, which is available online at www.pewresearch.org/trends.

Cumulatively, a person's answers to these questions are "by far the strongest predictors of whether a person is a Republican or a Democrat," according to Pew's analysis. In the 1990s, opinions about social issues such as homosexuality or the government's proper role in protecting the poor were more reliable indicators of how a person was likely to vote.

Analyzing Pew's data, as well as exit polls taken on Election Day, the report concluded: "Bush won for one reason above all others: The electorate judged him to be the stronger leader at time when Americans feel threatened by terrorism."

Blair Gets Another Pollster

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been likened to a political little brother to Bill Clinton. Both fashion themselves as "third way" progressives, trying to nudge their parties -- the Democrats in this country, the Labor Party in Britain -- to discard liberal orthodoxies in favor of a more centrist approach on economic and values issues.

In the latest example of the Brit following his American counterpart, Blair has hired one of Clinton's pollsters. Mark Penn, who helped fashion the 1996 reelection strategy and stayed around in a key advisory role for the second term.

But wait a minute: Blair already has one of Clinton's pollsters on his team -- Stan Greenberg, Clinton's pollster in the 1992 campaign and for the first two years of his administration.

It's unclear what to make of Penn's emergence as a key figure on Blair's political team, which was first reported in England by the Daily Telegraph and the Times of London. Penn confirmed the reports but did not comment further.

In Washington, Clinton-era Democrats were left wondering if this was history repeating itself. A decade ago, Penn replaced Greenberg as Clinton's top pollster after Democrats were routed in the 1994 election. A source familiar with Penn's work in Washington, speaking not for attribution, suggested that Greenberg now has a "diminished role" for Blair. Not so, said a Greenberg ally, who insisted that Penn's arrival in no way lessens Greenberg's influence. British elections have not yet been called but are expected later this year.

Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.

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