Midterm Voters Drop National Politics for Foreign Policy
Policy + Politics

Midterm Voters Drop National Politics for Foreign Policy

Since last year’s Obamacare website debacle, many Democrats in vulnerable seats in the coming midterms thought that the best strategy to hold office was to distance themselves from President Obama’s signature legislation. Now, as new polls show a majority of Americans believe Obamacare has benefited the 7.3 million Americans who qualify for the new health care program, Obama’s foreign policy has quickly become a major issue in November’s elections.

Seven months ago, few thought this would be the case. Midterm elections are typically about local issues and serve as referendums on a president’ job performance.

Related: Wretched New Poll Numbers for Obama’s Foreign Policy

This year, however, is quite different. In the last seven months, Russia invaded Ukraine, and the Obama administration is having trouble finding ways to counter an emboldened Vladimir Putin. As American bombs fall in Syria and Iraq, the United States is slowly inching toward a wider war with ISIS. In the far east, China has quietly been aggressively asserting itself in its neighborhood.

Before the ISIS barbarians emerged, Obama had adopted a lead from behind policy, allowing other allies to take leadership roles in international crisis with the United States in a supporting roll. Edward Goldberg, a professor at Baruch College and the New York University Center for Global Affairs, said that the dynamics of world power, along with crises that directly challenged the United States and it’s worldview, forced Obama to change his approach.

“There was much talk in the world, especially by the Chinese and supported by some elements in Europe, that the world could live without the American hegemony, without [America acting as a global] cop,” Goldberg said. “We now see, whether in the Ukraine where America -- oddly not Europe -- took the lead, and now with the battle against ISIS, that the world needs a cop and America is the only one free enough to do it.”

This shift in Obama’s approach, though a reluctant one, combined with international crises that the White House cannot control, has thrust foreign policy back into American politics. The bad new for Democrats is that Obama’s foreign policy isn’t very popular with the American public 

Related: The U.S. Is Fumbling the War of Ideas Against ISIS

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows just 32 percent of Americans support Obama’s foreign policy. That’s the lowest approval rate since 2009. The poll also found that the public believes Republicans are more capable than Democrats of handling national security matters.

There’s room for that rate to go lower. Right now, America has only committed air power to back ISIS. But many within the Pentagon have warned that additional troops might be needed to defeat the group, and the White House has admitted that this fight will take years.

DOD brass is “being realistic and truthful. We don’t know what the situation is going to be,” said Steve Bucci, a foreign policy expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Emerging Issue

Foreign policy has already begun to creep into campaign advertisements; the National Republican Congressional Committee has begun airing ads challenging Democrats on international affairs.

Related: N.H. Senate Race Could Turn on Obama’s Handling of ISIS

“President Obama and Senator Shaheen seem confused about the nature of the threat,” Scott Brown, the former Massachusetts governor said in the ad, calling out his opponent, Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

Foreign policy is also the talk at town hall meetings and during face time with voters on the campaign trail. In North Carolina, a state with a large military presence, Republican challenger Thom Tillis attacked Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan for failing to recognize the ISIS threat earlier. 

“Although Sen. Kay Hagan is the chairwoman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, which specifically deals with terrorist threats, she has never called for a single public hearing that focuses on ISIS,” Tillis said in a statement earlier this month. “It raises serious concerns over Hagan’s ineffectiveness and failure to lead.”

Top Reads from The Fiscal Times