Is Foreign Policy, Not the Economy, Becoming Obama's Weakness?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 26 2012 10:13 AM

Is Foreign Policy, Not the Economy, Becoming Obama's Weakness?

There's a question in the headline, so the answer is "no." But it's a close-run thing. The polls that show Barack Obama keeping his strong lead over Mitt Romney also show the president's advantage on foreign policy -- his strong suit since May 2011 -- slipping a little.

In the NBC/WSJ poll, 39 percent of people say the country's "headed in the right direction." That's up from 32 percent in August, and the highest "right track" number since September 2009, when the early wave of optimism of Obama was in its first long fade. But when voters are asked if they approve or disapprove of Obama's "handling of foreign policy," only 49 percent side with Obama. That's the lowest number since April 2011, right before the operation that killed bin Laden.

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In the AP poll, we see the same thing. The "right direction" number is up to 42 percent, its highest since the fluke boost of the bin Laden killing. But when voters are asked how Obama is "handling the situation in Libya," he gets a narrow 47-45 "yes" vote from likely voters. During the no-fly-zone and the fall of Gaddafi, the margin on approving of Obama was 57-37.

This doesn't extend into the swing states, yet. The new Quinnipiac polls of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida have the president clobbering Romney in every one. The auto bailout is fantastically popular -- 62 percent. Obama's uptick on the economy now has him leading Romney on that issue by single digits. His lead on foreign policy ranges from 10 points (Florida) to 16 points (Pennsylvania). But you see why the Romney campaign is trying to find weaknesses here. Simply talking about the economy means talking about a rising Obama strength. Talking about foreign policy? You're leading on a possible Obama weakness.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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