Public opinion on national security and the trump administration

MAY 2019

A new National Security Action-commissioned poll finds voters have grown increasingly alarmed about Donald Trump’s handling of national security and foreign policy, which they highlight as a key concern ahead of the 2020 election. Voters overwhelmingly believe Trump lacks the judgment and temperament to be the Commander-in-Chief and that his leadership has left America less respected on the world stage. Most respondents say America’s national security and relations with other countries are headed in the wrong direction, reflecting a significant shift in attitudes since last summer.

“The polling captures what we’ve long suspected to be true,” said Dan Herman, National Security Action’s Director of Campaigns and Advocacy. “Americans are increasingly alarmed at Trump’s failed foreign policy and impulsive behavior as Commander-in-Chief. Democrats have an opportunity to offer an affirmative vision in stark contrast with Trump’s reckless and erratic record.”

This poll builds on National Security Action’s previous nationwide survey conducted last summer, finding that a plurality of voters (46-38) continue to believe Trump has left America less safe, while an overwhelming majority (57-30) say he has made America less respected in the world. Among undecided voters, a full 62 percent agree with the latter notion. Most respondents (57-43) contend that America’s relations with other countries are moving in the wrong direction, while a full two-thirds of voters think Trump lacks the judgment and temperament to be Commander-in-Chief. By an 8-point margin, fewer voters this year believe America’s national security is heading in the right direction over last year.

The poll further found that voters rank national security as one of their most important priorities in the 2020 election, second only to healthcare. A plurality of voters (45) want a president who can stand up for American values abroad, including human rights and democracy. The polling reveals swing voters are particularly concerned with how Trump’s trade policies hurt workers and farmers as well as with Trump’s weakening of our traditional alliances. Voters trust Democrats more than Republicans to work on global threats like climate change, defend human rights and democracy, and keep America out of a costly war.

The findings also suggest Democrats can win the national security debate by effectively pointing out Trump’s foreign policy failures. After hearing more about Trump’s record, voter disapproval of Trump’s handling of national security spiked by 18 points, while the margin of voters who say his handling of national security is a reason to elect a new president increased by 11 points. By a large margin, voters want a president who is smart first and foremost in dealing with national security and foreign affairs. By contrast, the attributes most often associated with Trump are “impulsive,” “risky,” and “undiplomatic.”