USA Today publishes a curious poll today, one that gives conservatives a good talking point but with a gaping hole in the numbers. According to their numbers, Americans believe closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay will weaken national security by a 2-1 margin. The bad news? Undecideds apparently outnumber opponents:
Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to closing the detention center for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay and moving some of the detainees to prisons on U.S. soil, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds.
By more than 2-1, those surveyed say Guantanamo shouldn’t be closed. By more than 3-1, they oppose moving some of the accused terrorists housed there to prisons in their own states.
The findings underscore the difficult task President Obama faces in convincing those at home that he should follow through on his campaign promise to close the prison in Cuba, especially in the absence of a plan of where the prisoners would go.
But that 2-1 number is almost a plurality of respondents:
In the survey, Americans were inclined to accept the argument by Cheney and former president George W. Bush that the detention center had made the United States safer. By 40%-18%, they said the prison had strengthened national security rather than weakened it.
Those who want the prison to remain open feel more strongly on the subject that those who want to close it. A 54% majority of those polled say the prison shouldn’t be closed, and that they’ll be upset if the administration moves forward to close it.
The 40%-18% split leaves 42% apparently undecided on the issue of whether closing Gitmo would weaken national security. At this point, with years of debate over Gitmo, how can almost half of the respondents not have an opinion on it? While the Right can legitimately point to the 2-1 split among those who have an opinion, the 42% undecided is one of the highest numbers I’ve ever seen on a national issue of such a high profile.
Perhaps Dick Cheney’s outspoken endorsement of the position keeps people from signing onto it. Without a doubt, Obama’s popularity far exceeds that of Cheney. People may have some cognitive dissonance in explicitly adopting Cheney’s position, but as the poll numbers on the general question of Gitmo shows, a majority clearly agrees with it, despite Obama’s popularity.
This polls adds to the evidence that Barack Obama has lost the national debate with Dick Cheney, and that he may want to quit having it. He may remain personally popular, but as these numbers show, that won’t stay the case for long if he closes Gitmo and brings the terrorists to the US.