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Home Is Where the Harm Is

Thursday, February 25, 2016

There’s a reason why they call it homeland security.

Americans remain more concerned about terror here at home than they are about the terrorist threat abroad, and right now they don’t like what they see.

Even before the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California late last year, just 33% of Likely U.S. Voters felt the United States is safer today than it was before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. That ties the highest level of worry since Rasmussen Reports first began regular surveying of this question in November 2006.

Only 27% think the United States and its allies are winning the War on Terror; a plurality (44%) still believes the terrorists are winning.  That’s just short of the 11-year high of 46% reached last October, again before the big terror attacks.

Just last month, while President Obama downplayed the threat of terrorism in his final State of the Union speech, voters responded by saying he should focus primarily on terrorism for the remainder of his time in the White House.

But then voters strongly disagree with the president when he says America is not at war with radical Islamic terrorism. Even most voters in Obama’s own party don’t agree with him.

That also explains why most voters reject the president’s renewed effort to close the prison camp for suspected terrorists at the U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba.  Just as many oppose his idea of bringing some of those inmates to prisons in the United States.

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Yet while the terror threat is uppermost in the minds of most Americans, that doesn’t translate into a willingness to take the fight against radical Islam overseas.

Sixty percent (60%) of voters, for example, still consider the radical Islamic State group (ISIS) a Very Serious threat to the United States, a view most have held for a while. But only 34% think the United States should send a significant military force to Syria to fight ISIS despite a recent Pentagon call for more U.S. troops there.

Just after Obama decided to send a small number of troops to Syria late last year, 37% favored introducing U.S. troops on the ground there, but 42% were opposed.  One-in-five voters (21%) were undecided.

Following the horrific attacks in Paris last November that ISIS took responsibility for, 49% of voters here said the United States should formally declare war on ISIS, but only 25% felt the United States should take the lead in that war.  Sixty-five percent (65%) said America instead should be part of a broader coalition of equals.

Most voters have said no to U.S. involvement throughout the Arab Spring of the last few years, whether it’s Egypt or Libya or Syria or even a return to Iraq. Voters just aren’t convinced that what’s going on in the Middle East is a serious national security concern for the United States, and 72% still agree with former President Ronald Reagan that “the United States should not commit its forces to military action overseas unless the cause is vital to our national interest.”

Fifty-five percent (55%) say the U.S. military is overstretched with the missions it already has.

On the other hand, just 27% think the federal government’s focus on domestic Islamic terrorism is about right. Forty-nine percent (49%) say the government isn’t paying enough attention to this potential threat.

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