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New poll spells potential trouble for Democrats


President Barack Obama meets his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington in this February 17, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/The White House Photo/Pete Souza/Handout
President Barack Obama meets his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington in this February 17, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/The White House Photo/Pete Souza/Handout

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new poll on Monday found signs of trouble ahead for President Barack Obama and his Democrats on national security issues such as the handling of terrorism suspects.

The poll was conducted jointly by Democratic Corps, a Democratic organization, and Third Way, a progressive non-profit organization. It was done mainly to gauge voters' views on Democrats' handling of national security.

The poll also found weaknesses for the Democrats on other issues ahead of November elections, in which they hope to defend their strong majorities in Congress.

The poll found 60 percent of Americans believe the United States is on the wrong track. It also found that people rated Democrats at about the same level as Republicans, in what amounted to an erosion of the advantage Democrats have held.

"We would not want the election to be held today, with this poll," said Democracy Corps' chief pollster Stan Greenberg. "If the election were held today, this would be a 'change' election."

Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, interviewed by Newsweek, shrugged off a question about whether she was worrying about the November elections, saying they are a long way off.

"We can't afford to focus on the day-to-day polls," she said. "If you think that we should second-guess (Obama's) decision to do fundamentally big things, there are plenty of other people who would have been that kind of president. That's not the kind of president he wants to be."

Obama received strong ratings in the poll on his handling of national security challenges such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But, the pollsters said in a memo, "Historical doubts about the Democratic Party on national security show signs of reviving and many voters worry the president and his administration are not dealing forcefully enough with terrorist suspects."

The poll found that the Democrats' gap on national security has widened in the areas of "keeping America safe," "ensuring a strong military" and "making America safer from nuclear threats."

Singled out by the pollsters was the Obama administration's response to the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day.

The Obama administration has drawn fire from Republicans for treating the bombing suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, as a typical criminal suspect instead of as an enemy combatant. The administration has fought back by insisting he has been handled no differently than alleged shoe bomber Richard Reid.

The poll found a 51 to 44 percent majority of likely voters disapproved of Obama's efforts "on the prosecution and interrogation of terrorism suspects."

The pollsters said to improve Democrats' standing on national security, they need to develop a stronger narrative on terrorism, and stress toughness and results by pointing out the increased use of Predator drones against Islamic militants and that FBI interrogation techniques that persuaded Abdulmutallab to produce "actionable intelligence."

(Reporting by Steve Holland; editing by Chris Wilson)

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