There's a fascinating finding in a new NBC-Wall Street Journal national poll: Republicans say that national security/terrorism is the single most important issue facing the country.

More than a quarter of Republicans (27 percent) chose that option, putting it ahead of "deficit and government spending" (24 percent) and, somewhat remarkably, "job creation and economic growth" (21 percent), which has long dominated as the top priority for voters of all partisan stripes.

Beyond those top line numbers, there are two other telling nuggets in the data.

The first is that Republican voters are twice as concerned as Democrats about national security and terrorism. In the NBC-WSJ survey, just 13 percent of Democrats named national security as the most pressing issue for the government; job creation and economic growth was far and away the biggest concern among Democrats (37 percent), with health care (17 percent) and climate change (15 percent) ranking ahead of national security and terrorism.

The second is that national security is a rapidly rising concern for Republicans. In NBC-WSJ poll data from March 2012, just eight percent of Republicans named it as the most important issue for the government to address.

There's no single or simple explanation for that threefold increase, although the focus on the Islamic state and its barbaric (and high-profile) killing of hostages has clearly played a major role. In a recent conversation, a savvy Republican media consultant told me that the Islamic State attacks coupled with the release (and subsequent controversy) over "American Sniper," a film that tells the story of Chris Kyle, has had a profound effect on the average Republican base voter.

That effect amounts to an unease about the idea that the Islamic State operates by no rules or common humanity combined with a sort of rally-around-the-flag sentiment occasioned by a belief that some Americans have lost the necessary focus on the threat posed by militant groups.

What does it all mean for presidential politics? Most obviously that GOP candidates staking out traditionally hawkish policy views on foreign policy are likely to gain traction in the primary race while those not hewing that line -- Rand Paul, I am looking at you -- may struggle.

It also suggests that the outlines of the 2016 general election campaign could resemble those of 2004 when the central issue in the election was which candidate would keep Americans safe. Obviously, it's an imperfect comparison because that election came just three years removed from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and featured a president who had been in office during those attacks.

What remains to be seen is how and whether the eventual Republican nominee can make the case that Hillary Clinton the eventual Democratic nominee is insufficiently committed or able to keep the country safe. That could be a tough sell given the relative thinness of the GOP field's experience on foreign policy -- especially when contrasted with the depth and breadth of Clinton's resume on those same issues.