The recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., have vaulted terrorism and national security to become the American public’s top concern, and they’ve helped drive President Barack Obama’s job rating to 43 percent — its lowest level in more than a year, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
What’s more, seven-in-10 Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction — the highest percentage here since Aug. 2014.
And 71 percent say the shootings and random acts of violence that have taken place this year – from Charleston, S.C., Oregon and Colorado, to the terrorist shootings in San Bernardino, Calif. – are now are now a permanent part of American life.
“For most of 2015, the country’s mood, and thus the presidential election, was defined by anger and the unevenness of the economic recovery,” says Democratic pollster Fred Yang of Hart Research Associates, which conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies. “Now that has abruptly changed to fear.”
That kind focus on security and terrorism “is a very different campaign than the one we thought we’d be running,” McInturff adds, referring to the 2016 presidential race.
But Democratic pollster Peter Hart cautions that this focus could be temporary, especially if there isn’t another terrorist attack. “Let’s wait and see the half-life of this after the next three months.”
In the poll, 40 percent of Americans say that national security and terrorism is the top priority for the federal government – up 19 points from when this question was last asked in April.That’s compared with the 23 percent who think job creation and economic growth are the top issue – down six points from when they had been the No. 1 concern last spring.
This finding is consistent with a recent Gallup poll, which showed terrorism as the public’s most important U.S. problem.
Yet there’s a significant partisan divide in the NBC/WSJ survey: 58 percent of Republican primary voters say national security/terrorism is their top concern, versus just 26 percent of Democratic primary voters who say that.
And 33 percent of Democrats say their top issue was the economy/jobs, versus just 12 percent of Republicans.
When asked which one or two news events defined 2015, the top answer was the terrorist attacks in Paris (at 29 percent). That was followed by the terrorist shootings in San Bernardino (at 23 percent), the mass shooting in Charleston (22 percent), the Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage across the country (19 percent) and the debates over the use of force by police (16 percent).