In the wake of the Paris attacks, the new Washington Post/ABC News poll portrays a nation fearful of more terrorist attacks, ready for more war (including sending in ground troops), opposed to admitting more refugees, and quick to dispense with any niceties about civil liberties:
— By 54-43, Americans oppose taking in refugees from the conflicts in Syria and other Mideast countries even after screening them for security.
— By 52-47, Americans are not confident that the U.S. can identify and keep out possible terrorists who may be among these refugees. (One bright spot: 78 percent of Americans don’t think religion should be considered in determining whether to accept refugees.)
— By 81-18, Americans think it is likely that there will be a terrorist attack in the U.S. in the near future that will cause large numbers of lives to be lost.
— By 55-45, Americans are not confident in the ability of the U.S. government to prevent further terror attacks against Americans here.
— By 72-25, Americans say that it is more important for the government to investigate terror threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy, rather than refraining from intruding on personal privacy.
In fairness, this is pretty vague — “intruding on personal privacy” could mean a lot of different things in terms of actual policy — but it’s still pretty lopsided, perhaps another reminder that public fear sends concerns about civil liberties right out the window.
— 60 percent of Americans want to see an “increased use of U.S. ground forces” against ISIS, and 73 percent of Americans want to see increased air strikes.
— Americans say by 59-37 that the U.S. is “at war with radical Islam.”
So Democrats are on the minority side of a fair amount of these. Hillary Clinton has aligned herself with Obama in coming out against sending in ground troops (though Republicans have been vague on this point, too, and Clinton has called for stepped up air strikes). Clinton and virtually all Democrats have called for the program for admitting Syrian refugees to continue, while the GOP candidates and many Congressional Republicans have called for it to be “paused” or for an outright ban on their entry. There is little confidence in the current administration’s ability to keep us safe — at least right at this moment — and Marco Rubio and Donald Trump have ramped up the calls for a beefed up surveillance state.
My strong suspicion is that such public agitation is why Clinton stepped forward to deliver her big foreign policy speech this week, while Obama, who has been abroad, continues to take criticism for not addressing public fears forcefully or directly enough.
Only time will tell how deep these public sentiments run or how durable they will prove. It’s hard to imagine that the American public would seriously be ready for another protracted ground war so quickly after the experience of the last decade, prompted by a terror attack on another country. But we’ll find out over time.
It also remains to be seen how Hillary Clinton will fare amid all this. It’s not clear that she’ll be harmed by it all that much, given that her foreign policy speech was largely treated as serious and detailed in the media. Still, these new numbers strongly suggest she’ll have a lot of work to do in defending her record as part of the administration. Meanwhile, in the short term, Dems — particularly in Congress, where the battle over refugees will be playing out — may be doing a fair amount of walking through fire.