Politico’s Morning Defense chatted over the weekend with Mieke Eoyang, director of the national security program here at Third Way. Last month we released the findings (http://bit.ly/H7EgXp) of a series of focus groups it held with swing voters in Ohio and Florida.
Among the conclusions: Participants viewed Obama in a positive light on national security, but the president’s strength on the issue did not transfer to congressional Democrats, who are viewed as weak and indecisive.
“When you talk about stereotypes for each party, we had people bringing up things from Vietnam,” Eoyang said. “There has been a long history of Democrats with one stereotype — very dovish.”
Since 2008, she added, the president’s marks on national security have improved, but “party perceptions have not shifted at all.”
Another key finding: Among focus-group participants, women largely viewed Democrats as better on defense, while men overwhelmingly preferred Republicans. “What we found in the focus groups was that women were really trusting of the president to handle the hard security issues,” Eoyang said. “I think that a lot of that comes from the president’s willingness to consult with the military and to be deliberative.”
For more from the interview — including the participants’ views on drones, the defense budget and TSA screenings — scroll to the end.
AND, AS PROMISED, MORE FROM MIEKE EOYANG…
On how the focus groups viewed the president: “They gave him a lot of credit for things you might actually think people would be negative about, like Guantanamo. You might have expected that they might say something like, ‘The president on Guantanamo has broken a promise,’ but they actually felt like the president had looked at the data on the terrorists there and made a security decision for the country.”
On modern warfare: “Voters, in our focus group, were really in support of new technologies — drones, Special Forces — to go after terrorists abroad. That’s not to say that they’re not aware or concerned about over-utilization. … But they would prefer those kinds of technologies over the occupation of other countries.”
On the defense budget: “People didn’t really buy into the idea that more is better. It’s more about what are you going to do with it. And they recognized that there is — we’re talking about defense spending — they recognized that maybe we do need to make some cuts now that we’re drawing down from the wars.”
And, believe it or not, focus-group participants were fond of TSA airport screenings: “It’s a very visible sign of increased security measures. In some ways, it’s a psychological comfort. When you go through, at least you know that they are looking for terrorists. It’s where people interact with security most personally. Most people are not seeing drones or interacting with Special Forces or meeting terrorists. We’re very lucky in the United States that we don’t have that. But most Americans do at some point encounter airport security, and they find it somewhat reassuring.”