American voters split down the middle over whether the Times Square bomber should be treated like a criminal or a combatant. Forty-five percent say treat him like a criminal defendant, and 47 percent like an enemy combatant, according to a Fox News poll released Thursday.
It's a tough call, as the man officials say admitted trying to bomb Times Square is a Pakistani who recently became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
A slim 51 percent majority of Democrats would treat the suspect like a criminal defendant, while just over half of Republicans (51 percent) and independents (52 percent) would treat him like an enemy combatant.
No one was injured in the Saturday evening incident, and suspect Faisal Shahzad was quickly captured. Even so, more American voters see it as a failure of the homeland security system, rather than a success.
Nearly half of American voters — 47 percent — call the botched bombing a security failure because Shahzad was able to leave a car bomb in the bustling center of New York City.
Some 42 percent call it a success for U.S. Homeland Security because the bomb didn't explode and the suspect is in custody.
Republicans are much more likely to call the incident a failure (56 percent) than a success (33 percent). Views among independents are more closely split: 46 percent call it a failure and 43 percent a success. Democrats, by a 49-41 percent margin, call it a success for Homeland Security.
The national telephone poll was conducted for Fox News by Opinion Dynamics Corp. among 900 registered voters from May 4 to May 5. For the total sample, the poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
As the bombing attempt made big national news, the poll finds that less than 1 voter in 10 thinks terrorism is the most important issue facing the country right now. The economy remains the number one issue for Americans (47 percent). A distant second on the issues list is the deficit and government spending (15 percent). Terrorism comes in third (8 percent), followed closely by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (7 percent) and immigration (5 percent).
Fifty-one percent of voters think the Obama administration is "as serious about fighting terrorism as the Bush administration was," while 43 percent disagree. In January, soon after the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an airliner, 54 percent said the current administration was as serious about fighting terrorism as the Bush administration, while 37 percent said it wasn't.
The U.S. Constitution
The support for treating Shahzad as a criminal defendant may reflect worries about straying too far from the Constitution.
Most American voters think it feels more like the United States is moving away from the Constitution and what it stands for (66 percent) than say it feels like the country is going back to the Constitution (24 percent).
Almost all Republicans (91 percent) think it feels more like the country is moving away from the Constitution, and most independents feel that way too (70 percent). Democrats are evenly split: 42 percent say the country is moving away from the Constitution and 43 percent say it is going back to it.