Despite pointing to foreign policy as the area where the Obama administration has done its "best" in the first 100 days, Americans are actually at odds with many of the president's specific positions, according to the latest FOX News poll.
The survey finds a majority of Americans (55 percent) think Barack Obama has done the right thing in his diplomatic dealings with unfriendly dictators like Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, while about one-third (34 percent) take the opposing view that Obama's behavior was too "chummy" and therefore signaled U.S. weakness. Almost seven in ten Republicans (69 percent) however, believe his behavior toward these leaders has been too friendly.
Half of Americans (50 percent) think the president himself believes the United States is engaged in a global war or terrorism, although just under four in ten Americans think he does not see such a conflict (37 percent) and another 13 percent remain unsure. Again, there is partisan division on this issue, as a 52 percent majority of Republicans thinks the president does not believe in a global war on terrorism.
The national telephone poll was conducted for FOX News by Opinion Dynamics Corp. among 900 registered voters from April 22 to April 23, 2009. The poll has a 3-point error margin.
As we move to more specific evaluations of policy, we begin to see a separation from some Obama administration positions. For example, when asked about harsh interrogation techniques (like water-boarding), half (50 percent) think these tactics have given the United States "valuable information" about Al Qaeda to stop additional attacks. Only slightly more than one-quarter (27 percent) take the view the harsher techniques were useless from an intelligence standpoint.
Moreover, when asked to hold aside the question of whether these tactics work or not, a slim 52 percent majority thinks the CIA should be allowed to use them to get information from prisoners to protect against terrorist attacks.
The share of Americans who support these "harsher" techniques rises to more than six in ten (63 percent) when it's argued they could be used to prevent an imminent attack on the scale of September 11.
There is also slim majority disapproval (52 percent) of the Obama administration's action to release White House memos detailing how the CIA interrogated top Al Qaeda members. Based on that release, slightly more Americans feel less safe (39 percent) than safer (34 percent).
With regard to the status of the Guantanamo Bay military prison (where allegations about harsher techniques are centered), a 53 percent majority opposes closing its doors, with one-third (33 percent) supporting a shut-down.
The suggestion by the National Intelligence Director that some Guantanamo detainees may be released in the United States and given assistance to start a new life is opposed by almost three-quarters of Americans (72 percent).
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently suggested returning U.S. veterans might be ripe for recruitment by right-wing extremist groups. Few — about one in seven Americans (16 percent) — agrees with the Secretary that this might be a real threat, while almost two-thirds (63 percent) think it's an insult to veterans to make the suggestion.
A majority of Democrats (52 percent) also perceive a slight to returning soldiers.
On a more generalized front, it's clear that Americans reject the new Homeland Security appellation of "man-caused disasters" in place of "terrorism." Almost three-quarters (74 percent) think the president should use the word terrorism when referring to terrorist threats — only 16 percent think the "man-caused disaster" phrase should be used.
A solid majority of Americans (61 percent) approve of the Obama administration's decision to send additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, with 31 percent opposed. Interestingly, when removing Obama's name from the new Afghan troop policy, support drops a full 10 points to 51 percent. This is yet another indication of the resiliency of the president's overall appeal. On the question that does not mention Obama's name, Democratic opposition increases from 35 percent to 56 percent.
Finally, a 51 percent majority thinks it is inappropriate for President Obama to have made public comments critical of past American policies while traveling overseas. When Obama's name is removed in this context, there is very little change in opinion, as a majority (53 percent) still opposes the idea of any president making those types of public comments.
All in all, it appears that President Obama's overall personal favorability is serving him well in generic public evaluations of his foreign policy. But there are undercurrents of opposition to specific aspects of his foreign agenda that may emerge as more significant down the road.
Ernie Paicopolos is a Principal at Opinion Dynamics Corporation.