There clearly are different concerns about Obama's approach compared with those of his predecessor. Americans by 63-27 percent are more worried that Obama will not go far enough to investigate terrorism because of concerns about constitutional rights, rather than going too far in compromising such rights in order to investigate threats. It was a much closer 48-44 percent split for George W. Bush.
At the same time, and despite the other criticisms, more say the Obama administration is doing better rather than worse than the Bush administration in handling intelligence reports about terrorist threats, 30 percent vs. 20 percent. The rest say they're performing about the same.
Ratings of the success of the campaign against terrorism overall soared as high as 88 percent in January 2002, after the invasion of Afghanistan and overthrow of the Taliban. Today's 51 percent is a new low numerically, although it's been about here once before, 52 percent in September 2006, amid broad discontent with the war in Iraq. It had recovered to 62 percent in the last ABC/Post reading in September 2008.
Ratings of several specific federal efforts are more clearly at new lows. In September 2002, 72 percent of Americans said the government had done an excellent or good job improving U.S. intelligence-gathering and coordination. That's declined in every subsequent measure, and today it's just 47 percent, below half for the first time. Similarly, the number who say the government's done a good job reorganizing agencies to improve their anti-terrorism efforts has fallen from 71 percent in 2002 to 44 percent now, again below a majority for the first time.
The biggest single drop has come in views that the government has done a good job breaking up the al Qaeda network. Sixty-three percent said so in September 2002. It fell to 47 percent in September 2006. And it's down to 32 percent now.
On another measure, preventing further attacks in the United States, ratings are still mostly positive, at 58 percent. But that's down from a peak of 80 percent in September 2003.
One final gauge, though middling, shows improvement, given Obama's more internationalist approach: Fifty percent say the United States has done a good job winning the cooperation of other countries in fighting terrorism, up from 38 percent in fall 2006. It's been just about this high twice before, though, in 2002 and 2004.
Part of the changes in these views represent a fundamental partisan shift that's accompanied the change in administrations. Sixteen months ago 87 percent of Republicans said the war on terrorism was going well, as did 61 percent of independents; just 49 percent of Democrats agreed. Today that's up by 17 points among Democrats, but down by 14 points among independents – and down by a remarkable 46 points among Republicans. It's also worsened sharply among seniors, the age group most disenchanted with Obama overall.
Similarly, under Bush in 2006, Republicans were far more confident in the government's handling of intelligence and reorganization of agencies; today their views have sharply worsened, down 49 points and 37 points, respectively.
There are fewer partisan differences on some questions. Large majorities across the partisan spectrum rate investigating threats more highly than avoiding intrusions on security; even among liberal Democrats it's 70 percent, rising to 90 percent of conservative Republicans.