The FINANCIAL — WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans are slightly more inclined to believe the Republican Party would do a better job than the Democratic Party at both keeping the U.S. secure from external threats, and keeping the country prosperous.
The GOP holds a six-percentage-point advantage on security, 47% to 41%, and a five-point edge on prosperity, 47% to 42%. At the same time, Americans are evenly split as to which party would better handle the “most important problem” facing the country.
The results are based on questions asked in Gallup’s Sept. 4-12 Governance poll designed to assess the images of the two major political parties. Overall, Americans give the parties similar favorable ratings. On issues, the public is divided as to which party can handle the most important problem, most commonly “the government” with “immigration” a distant second in in the current survey. Asked more specifically which party is better able to keep the country safe from external threats and able to keep the country prosperous, Republicans hold a slight edge on both.
Thus, on both party images and perceptions of party issue competence, the parties are either divided, or the GOP has a slight advantage. On these dimensions, then, neither party holds a significantly stronger position than the other with the midterm elections taking place in less than two months.
Republican Lead on Security Smaller Than Usual
Americans typically view the Republican Party as better than the Democratic Party at protecting the country from international terrorism and military threats. Since the question was first asked in 2002, there have been only three years when Republicans did not hold a meaningful edge on the security issue — 2006 and 2007 during the Iraq War and in a 2012 poll conducted in the days after the Democratic National Convention.
However, the current six-point edge for Republicans is less than the historical average of nine points (48% to 39%). The advantage in favor of the GOP has been as high as 23 points in 2014 when the Islamic State was increasing its terrorist activity in Iraq.
Line graph. Republicans’ six-point advantage on protecting the U.S. is smaller than usual.
Americans’ perception of the party better to keep the country prosperous has shifted over the past 17 years, with the Democratic Party holding at least a slight edge for most of George W. Bush’s years in office, and the Republican Party tending to have a narrow advantage since 2014. There has been little change in Americans’ views the past four years, with a GOP advantage of between two and five points.
Line graph. Republicans have held a slight advantage for keeping the country prosperous the last six years.
In 1951, Gallup first asked Americans which party could better keep the country prosperous. For most of the next 30 years, when Democratic Party identifiers routinely outnumbered Republican Party identifiers by double digits, Americans thought the Democratic Party was superior on the economy, with an average 16-point advantage, 43% to 27%. Since 1981, the parties have been about even, with 42% believing the Republicans are better and 40% saying the Democrats are.
Democrats Lose Edge to Handle Most Important Problem
The even division in views of which party can better handle the most important problem this year represents a shift from last year when more thought the Democrats could better deal with it. As now, the government was most commonly mentioned as the top problem a year ago, although significantly fewer cited it then (18%) than do so today (29%). Also, slightly more mentioned race relations or racism a year ago compared with now, 12% vs. 9%.
In this poll, after respondents indicate which problem they think is most important, they are probed as to which party would better handle it. Thus, the measure gives a broader view of perceived party competence across a variety of issues.
This year’s closer division is more typical of what Gallup has found on this question. There have only been a few surveys in which one party had a significant lead on this measure. Most of those occurred between 2006 and 2009, with Democrats enjoying a lead when the Iraq War and the economy were the dominant issues mentioned as the most important problem.
Line graph. Americans split on which party can best handle the most important problem in U.S. Democrats led in 2018.
In an election year that many pundits expect to be positive for Democrats, largely because of President Donald Trump’s low approval ratings, Republicans fare no worse than Democrats on overall party images or perceptions of which party can better handle key issues. At a time when Americans are positive about the economy, the GOP has a slight advantage on that issue, and continue to be viewed as superior to Democrats at keeping the country safe.
Thus, Republicans may win over voters by emphasizing the state of the economy and the United States’ relative safety from external threats. However, Republicans do not enjoy a big advantage on either issue; in fact, the GOP has a smaller advantage on security than it typically does. But in an election in which Republicans face strong headwinds because of Trump’s unpopularity, an issue-based campaign may help improve their chances of getting the support they need to hold their majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate.