Obama's incredible shrinking foreign-policy advantage

Just over a month ago, I wrote a post with the headline, "Dems haven't had this much national-security swagger since LBJ." At the time, the Democrats were concluding their convention and President Obama was enjoying rare and resounding double-digit leads over his Republican challenger on foreign policy, national security, and counterterrorism. That was before the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Obama's lackluster performance in the first debate, and Mitt Romney's sustained post-debate bounce

Fast-forward several weeks, and Romney appears to have made dramatic strides on foreign policy and national security. The wording of questions and types of respondents vary in the national polls below, so what follows is not an apples-to-apples analysis (sadly, there's no daily tracking poll for foreign policy). The most recent polls also don't reflect Obama's stronger outing in his second debate. But the general trend should be clear:

  • Foreign policy: Obama still beats Romney on handling international affairs, but his lead seems to be contracting. A Fox News poll conducted last week showed Obama with a 49-43 advantage over Romney, a far cry from the president's 54-39 lead in a Sept. 9-11 survey. Similarly, a Pew Research Center poll conducted Oct. 4-7 found that Obama had a 47-43 edge over Romney after enjoying a whopping 53-38 advantage in a Sept. 12-16 survey. The counterpoint is an Oct. 10-13 ABC News/Washington Post poll, which has Obama continuing to best Romney by 10 points (the survey did show the gap narrowing from 13 points in early September to five points in late September before expanding again).
  • National security: Pollsters haven't asked much about national security specifically in recent weeks. But when they did in early August, Obama had a significant lead. Not anymore, at least according to an Oct. 5-7 Washington Times/Zogby poll in which Romney secured a 48-45 advantage. Just a week earlier, the same survey showed Obama leading Romney by a margin of 50-42. 
  • Counterterrorism: In late September, some polls showed Obama still enjoying a substantial lead on handling terrorism, while others raised eyebrows in political circles by giving Romney the edge. A new Fox News poll suggests that the GOP candidate is gaining on the president, if nothing else. Obama had a 47-43 advantage in the Oct. 7-9 survey, compared with a 49-41 lead in a Sept. 9-11 poll. An Oct. 15 Ipsos/Reuters poll similarly gives Obama a 37-32 edge, compared with a far more comfortable 39-26 lead in a Sept. 10 survey.  

The Pew poll released this week also shows Obama losing some support for his response to the Libya attack, Obama and Romney running neck-and-neck on dealing with Iran's nuclear program, and Romney leading Obama by nine points on handling China's trade policies.

As I mentioned before, it's important to emphasize that these polls do not capture Obama's performance in the second debate. But when CNN polled Americans who watched this week's town hall and asked them which candidate would do a better job handling foreign policy, Obama emerged with a mere 49-47 advantage over Romney.

Obama clearly still has the overall edge on foreign policy. But his dominance appears to be waning -- just in time for a debate on foreign policy next week.



Haiti to join the African Union?

It could be happening soon, reports Afua Hirsch for the Guardian:

 And sure enough, in January the African Union is poised to admit Haiti as a member, which if it happens, will be the first time any nation with no geographic connection to the continent of Africa will have joined.

More than any other Caribbean nation, Haiti occupies a special place in the affection of many Africans and members of the African diaspora. The country endured decades of still prescient punishment for daring to overthrow its slave masters, becoming the world's first independent black nation in 1804 – the slave rebellion's leader Toussaint L'Ouverture hailed from Benin. Haiti used its independence and membership of the United Nations in the post-war period to back decolonisation during the fraught period of African independence.

And now it has a level of poverty gives it more in common with many African nations than its wealthier Caribbean neighbours, who have been known to regard Haitan refugees as a nuisance. After the 2010 earthquake, the Democratic Republic of Congo – which struggles to finance its own budget – pledged $2.5m in aid to the devastated country. Senegal offered land and places at its university to Haitan students. As the African Union chairman, Jean Ping, said: "We have attachment and links to that country. The first black republic … that carried high the flame of liberation and freedom for black people and has paid a heavy price for so doing."

Some of the more practical factors include the potential for Haiti to participate in intra-African trade and receive investment from some of the continent's relatively booming economies. 

It would be a geographical oddity, to be sure, though it makes more sense than Panama adopting the euro.