Wednesday

December 11th, 2019

Insight

Tenure vs. Toughness: Hillary's terrorism fighting background would seem to be an advantage. Thus far, it really hasn't been

Philip Bump

By Philip Bump The Washington Post

Published June 15, 2016

Tenure vs. Toughness: Hillary's terrorism fighting background would seem to be an advantage. Thus far, it really hasn't been

Hillary Clinton was a member of the Senate for eight years, serving on the Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities. She served as secretary of state for another four years - a tenure she'd like to summarize by pointing to that famous photo of her in the White House Situation Room on the night Osama bin Laden was killed.

Yet in recent polling, pitting her ability to address the threat of terrorism against that of a bombastic businessman from Manhattan, voters view the two about evenly.

Since the beginning of May, a number of polls have asked Americans who they think can do a better job in the fight against terrorism - a question made much more important in the wake of the deadliest terror attack on American soil since 9/11. Those polls have varied, showing, in one case, a wide preference for Donald Trump and, at others, a virtual tie.

The Washington Post and its partners at ABC News have asked this question three times since November, the first time in the immediate aftermath of the attacks in Paris that killed more than 130. In the first two polls, Clinton led Trump by wide margins on the question of ability to handle terror, thanks to stronger support for Democrats than Trump enjoyed from Republicans. In the most recent poll, though, the two were virtually tied on the subject.

Attitudes about who would be better track with polling preference. When Clinton had a big lead in our polls, she had a big lead on the question of terrorism. As the race has tightened, she doesn't. But it's not clear that the order of causality goes from concern about terrorism to preference for Trump; the odds are good that it points the other way.

Why? Because the trend in attitudes on terror attacks by party mirrors the overall polling trend. In the most recent survey, after the Republican contest was settled, Republicans have consolidated around Trump as the best alternative to Clinton on terror - and as a candidate. Democrats continue to be split on Clinton, in part because at the point that the poll was taken, the Democratic primary race was still theoretically up for grabs. In 2012, we saw a similar narrowing between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on the issue as the Republican race reached its end. In February of that year, Romney trailed Obama by 16 points on the subject; by April, he trailed by only four.

Trump likely benefited more from the terror attacks that overlapped with the primaries than did his Republican competitors. FiveThirtyEight looked at this in March. Trump and Ben Carson were about tied at the moment of the Paris attacks; after, as one might have predicted, Carson tanked.

Americans are more worried about terrorism than they have been in the past, and Orlando is likely to heighten that tension. The fact that Trump is currently running even with Clinton on the issue - and even leading her in some polls, like Fox's and Gallup's - still seems like a positive for the soon-to-be Republican nominee. National defense has long been a Republican strength, but it's an issue where a Clinton-Trump matchup seems uniquely suited to favor the Democrat.

Thanks, no doubt, to skepticism about Clinton's effectiveness in her prominent roles, she has no such advantage at this point in the race.

Previously:
05/25/16: Donald Trump's primary success may have convinced him to make a critical error
05/06/16: So you want an independent candidate for president? You're running out of time
04/27/16: How Donald Trump dominated Tuesday's primaries
04/14/16: Trump's complaints about process are just whining
04/11/16: Trump's terrible night in Colorado exemplifies his campaign's Achilles' heel
04/04/16: In the year of Trump, a made-up news website run by an ex-convict finds success
03/30/16: Is Donald Trump a politician? An investigation
03/29/16: California could hand Donald Trump the GOP nomination --- and then doom him on election night
03/28/16: Let's uproot the pernicious, unproven claim that Ted Cruz attacked Donald Trump's wife
03/24/16: Why Donald Trump is poised to win the nomination and lose the general election, in one poll
03/23/16: The Brussels attacks and the increasing isolationism of Donald Trump
03/21/16: Will the GOP really keep trying to Stop Trump for four more months? It'll be tough
03/10/16: The unravelling of a political messiah
03/08/16: Hillary's bogus electability argument
03/07/16: Donald Trump has not brought 'millions and millions' of people to the Republican Party
03/02/16: Trump cites his $100,000-a-year golf resort as proof of his efforts on equality
02/23/16: Ted Cruz isn't running a dirty campaign, but that perception just cost a staffer his job
02/22/16: How Donald Trump won South Carolina
02/19/16: Trump says he'll win independents and New York state, but the numbers don't
02/19/16: Does Trump have a ground game? We probably still won't know after South Carolina
02/17/16: The Bush family reinvented itself to dominate politics --- which is now Jeb's problem
01/27/16: The dead people of America really don't want Hillary Clinton to be president
01/21/16: Sarah Palin's son, and the link between combat duty and veteran violence
01/18/16: The dark undercurrent for Hillary Clinton in Sunday's Dem debate
11/23/15: Just so you know: The government already has a list of Muslims in the U.S.

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles