The Washington Post has routinely touted terrorism and other national security issues as political advantages for Republicans, even though the Post's own polls show that a plurality of Americans trust Democrats over Republicans to handle the "campaign against terrorism" and "the situation in Iraq."
After repeatedly touting terrorism as a political advantage for Republicans, The Washington Post ignored its own poll's finding that, in fact, more people trust Democrats than Republicans to handle "the U.S. campaign against terrorism."
Greg Sargent first noted the Post's omission in a post on TPM Café:
Deep in the guts of that big Washington Post poll today is a startling number that didn't make it into the Post's accompanying article. It reads: Which political party, the (Democrats) or the (Republicans), do you trust to do a better job handling the U.S. campaign against terrorism?
The answer: Democrats 46%, Republicans 38% That's right: this poll's respondents preferred Dems not just on Iraq, but on the broader war on terror. If this number accurately reflects the electorate's mood, this may represent a watershed moment at which Americans have stopped reflexively believing the GOP is better on terrorism in general. Two questions: Will future polls show the same? And how much longer will media commentators keep saying that the GOP automatically has the advangage on national security issues?
Three of the last four Washington Post polls have found that a plurality of Americans trust Democrats rather than Republicans to handle the "campaign against terrorism." Four consecutive Post polls -- and seven of the last eight -- have found that a plurality trust Democrats more when it comes to handling "the situation in Iraq." The lone exception found the parties tied.
Yet the Post, like other news organizations, has routinely touted terrorism and other national security issues as political advantages for the GOP, both through its own assertions and through casual acceptance of Republican claims. Recent examples in the Post include:
A month ago, Democrats held a five-point lead over Republicans on dealing with international terrorism. Republicans now hold a seven-point advantage.
- "GOP Seeks Advantage In Ruling On Trials; National Security Is Likely Rallying Cry, Leaders Indicate," 7/1/06:
Republicans yesterday looked to wrest a political victory from a legal defeat in the Supreme Court, serving notice to Democrats that they must back President Bush on how to try suspects at Guantanamo Bay or risk being branded as weak on terrorism.
That November , Democrats were assailed by the president and other Republicans for their supposed reluctance to combat terrorism abroad or at home.
Many Democrats cite the political attacks on then-Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), a wounded Vietnam veteran, whose votes for several union-protection amendments helped delay passage of the bill creating the Department of Homeland Security. His opponent ran ads saying that Cleland "pretends to support President Bush, but he voted against homeland security 11 times." That campaign signaled to many Democrats that Republicans would not hesitate to use the terrorism issue as a partisan club.
The argument was repeated in the 2004 campaign, as Bush and Vice President Cheney painted Kerry and Edwards as naive or wavering in their approach to combating terrorism.
After campaigns in 2002 and 2004, the Democrats are on notice that they must try to persuade voters they have the backbone for the fight against terrorism.
In a late June Post-ABC News poll, when voters were asked which party they trust to handle certain issues, Republicans led on only one topic: the campaign against terrorism. Their 46 percent to 39 percent lead over the Democrats was modest, compared with the 2 to 1 advantage they enjoyed earlier, but it stands out at a time when Republicans are trailing on the economy, immigration, corruption and Iraq.
The continued public perception that their party is weaker on defense explains why Kerry endorsed giving the Army more troops, and why congressional Democratic leaders pulled out all the stops this spring to promote their proposals for national security, before unveiling their domestic priorities.
At the time of the Post's July 16 assertion that there is a "continued public perception" that the Democratic Party "is weaker on defense," three consecutive Post polls, and six of seven, had found that more people trust Democrats than Republicans to handle "the situation in Iraq." Two of the three most recent polls had found that more people trust Democrats to handle the "campaign against terrorism."
Four consecutive Post polls had found that at least 62 percent of Americans disapproved of President Bush's handling of Iraq; 22 of the 23 most recent polls had found majority disapproval, and all 23 found that a plurality disapproved.
Yet, the Post continued to assert that there was a "continued public perception" that Democrats are "weaker on defense."
Nor is the Post alone in making this assertion. Media Matters has repeatedly noted the media assumption that security issues automatically redound to the GOP's political benefit (see examples here, here, here, and here).