By Julian Pecquet - 05/07/12 09:00 AM EDT
Just about as many likely voters think President Obama over-politicized the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death as believe he handled it just right, according to a new poll for The Hill.
Forty-five percent of likely voters think Obama over-politicized the anniversary, including 65 percent of Republicans. But 46 percent of likely voters asserted that Obama’s approach was “about right,” including 74 percent of Democrats.
Republicans have accused the president of “spiking the football” over the bin Laden issue. Many GOP supporters resented a recent ad released by Obama’s campaign that questioned whether Mitt Romney would have made the same decision to send Navy SEALS into the radical Islamicist’s compound in Pakistan.
Obama, for his part, has defended his approach to the anniversary.
“I hardly think you’ve seen any excessive celebration taking place here,” Obama said last week. “I think the American people remember rightly what we as a country accomplished in bringing to justice someone who killed 3,000 of our citizens.”
The poll gave the president low marks for his handling of the war in Afghanistan, with 40 percent rating it as “excellent” or “good” versus 29 percent who said it was “fair” and a full 30 percent rating it as “poor.”
There was a stark partisan divide, however, with only 19 percent of Republicans and 28 percent of independents rating Obama’s approach positively, versus 73 percent of Democrats.
The Pulse Opinion Research poll of 1,000 likely voters was taken Thursday, two days after President Obama signed a strategic partnership agreement in Afghanistan with President Hamid Karzai.
While respondents in The Hill Poll were split along party lines, in Congress it’s Democrats who have been the agreement’s strongest critics.
“For years, our nation’s leaders have spoken about their intention to end the American presence in Afghanistan,” said Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa). “All that time, the end date has been pushed further and further down the road.”
And Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) said the agreement marked a continuation of the war, not its end.
“The plain fact is we are not exiting Afghanistan, despite the appearances which the White House is trying to create,” Kucinich said. “We are staying.”
Republicans, meanwhile, have varied in the tone and emphases of their responses.
While defense hawks like Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) praised the agreement, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) called the president’s focus on the war “long overdue.”
“It shouldn’t require congressional pressure, editorials from leading newspapers and a presidential election to get the president to fulfill his role as commander in chief and speak to the American people about the war in Afghanistan,” McKeon said.
Voters were just as split on the broader question of Obama’s success on the world stage.
Asked whether they preferred the president or his likely Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, to handle foreign policy issues, 46 percent of likely voters chose Obama versus 44 percent for Romney — a difference within the poll’s 3-point margin of error. Self-described “liberals” and “conservatives” largely stuck to their respective candidates, while “moderates” picked Obama over Romney 50 percent to 38 percent.
The results from independents, in particular, suggest that Democrats have effectively neutralized the decades-old Republican mantra that they’re “soft on defense.” Romney may therefore believe that his best bet is to continue to keep his focus on the president’s economic record.
Obama has suffered some foreign policy setbacks, however. His much-touted desire to reset relations with the rest of the world — particularly the Middle East — in the wake of President George W. Bush’s unilateralism has largely fallen flat domestically.
Only 37 percent of likely voters believe Obama has made the United States more respected internationally, versus 42 percent who think the opposite. Seventeen percent don’t think he’s made any difference.
The poll also revealed that a great majority of likely voters — 63 percent — rank the strength of the candidates on foreign policy as “very important” to their vote. Another 29 percent answered that foreign policy would be “somewhat” important and only 6 percent said it would be “not very” important.
Those figures suggest that the president would be wrong to assume that an unforeseen international crisis can’t come around and tank his poll ratings between now and November.
Just last week, for example, the administration’s handling of Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng’s escape to the U.S. embassy in Beijing threatened to become a major liability for Obama until diplomats on the ground turned things around and worked out a deal for the blind dissident to come to the United States on a student visa.
The Pulse Opinion Research poll has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3 percentage points.