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Torture As An Election Issue

A Commentary by Douglas Schoen

Rasmussen Reports recent data sheds light on an important question facing the U.S. as we approach the 2008 election: who will the issue of torture help in the upcoming Presidential election?

At this point, it is hard to answer the question definitively. The evidence available points to the Democrats but suggests the issue will help them very modestly. And, they have the opportunity to overplay it and hand the issue to the Republicans.

A plurality does believe that the United States tortures prisoners--but the margin is a narrow 42% to 30% with 28% undecided. A clear majority says we should not torture prisoners while slightly more than one quarter say we should be able to torture prisoners.

At the same time, a plurality did say that it the U.S gains valuable information that saves lives through torture.

But, the big caution in the data for those who would like to make an issue of it is that voters strongly believe that the U.S. treats prisoners of war better than most other nations. Both conservatives and moderates see it this way, while liberals are somewhat divided.

Those who are opposed to torturing prisoners will run into trouble if they say or imply that the U.S. practices are just as bad as those of the terrorists.

These numbers suggest that the public is opposed to torture as a policy and hold a sense that it is wrong. As a political issue, however, it becomes somewhat more murky as one drills down. So, while the treatment of prisoners may benefit the Democrats initially, going too far in criticizing U.S. behavior could backfire and cause problems with the broader electorate.

Douglas Schoen is a founding and former partner of Penn Schoen & Berland, and a Fox News Contributor.

Schoen was President Bill Clinton's research and strategic consultant during the 1996 reelection campaign.

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