With less than two weeks to go before voters head to the polls on November 4, everything is political. Republican candidates, which were thought to be favored to enjoy a relatively good night on Election Day, now have reason to be ebullient. If the Ebola outbreak and the rise of nearly unpreventable low-tech terrorism resulting from ISIS-inspired “lone wolves” are the issues which dominate the headlines between today and two Tuesdays from now, the GOP will be the party that benefits.
The threat of radical Islamic terrorism has been a subject at the forefront of voters’ minds since the late summer, when America went back to war in the middle East against the Islamic State and the threat posed by the group’s desire to export terrorism forced the West to become more vigilant.
While voters consistently cite economic issues as their top concerns, a recent AP-GfK survey found that voters rank terrorism and national security issues as among their top four most pressing considerations when heading to the polls. Eight in every 10 voters listed the terrorist threat posed by ISIS as an issue of great importance.
Economic anxiety has been a feature of American life since 2008, and the issue has become background radiation. Terrorism, however, has only recently returned to the front pages of America’s newspapers, and two recent incidents serve to heighten the cause for alarm in the minds of voters.
This week, in Canada, homegrown radicals in two separate incidents manage to take the lives of two Canadian soldiers using low-tech weaponry – a firearm and a vehicle, respectively. One of these attacks was so brazen and the target so prominent that authorities initially believed that it had been the work of at least three people.
In New York City, an ax-wielding man engaged in a similar style of Kamikaze assault. On a suicide mission, this crazed individual attacked four NYPD officers, sending one to the hospital in critical condition. The attack has been characterized as an ambush.
All of these individuals were inspired in some way by radical Islamic militarism. They had executed attacks against Western targets consistent with those in which ISIS leadership urged Muslims worldwide to engage: government authorities and the police. Those in American politics who seek to deemphasize the obvious association with radical Islamic terrorism in these cases do so, in part, because they know Republicans stand to benefit politically from American apprehension about the threat of terrorism.
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that, by a 17-point margin, the GOP was favored to handle issues relating to terrorism over Democrats. That survey also found that, while Democrats maintain a slight edge over Republicans in the generic ballot, GOP voters are far more enthusiastic to vote in November than are their Democratic counterparts.
Ebola, too, is back in the news. This week, just as the domestic threat posed by the disease began to dissipate, the issue began to rank on voters’ list of priorities. What’s more, Americans are starting to doubt that federal authorities can handle the crisis. In early October, 61 percent of Americans were confident that the federal government could halt the spread of Ebola to the general population, according to Gallup. On Tuesday, that confidence fell to 52 percent.
The discovery of a new case in New York City will surely not assuage Americans concerns. The infected individual, who contracted the disease while caring for stricken patients in affected regions of Africa, did not self-quarantine. In fact, he failed to follow virtually any of the protocols that Americans were told were in place and restricting the spread of the disease.
“They expect to control the potential spread of the disease by asking them to take their temperatures for 21 days and keep from being in public too much,” Ed Morrissey observed. “If a health professional who’s had experience with Ebola can’t follow those guidelines, why should we expect anyone else to follow them?”
The Ebola outbreak is testing America’s faith in the competency of their government.
“Most disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Ebola outbreak, according to an Associated Press-GfK Poll,” the Associated Press reported on Thursday. “Just 1 in 5 approve of the CDC’s work on Ebola so far, and only 3 in 10 say they trust that public health officials are sharing complete and accurate information about the virus. And only 18 percent have deep confidence that local hospitals could safely treat a patient with Ebola.”
Fear, anxiety, and a general disquiet are all bad signs for incumbents and the party in power especially. Both Ebola and radical terrorism via “lone wolf” attacks have created an air of unease. For challenger candidates this fall, the conditions are quite favorable. For incumbents, defending the status quo is an untenable position.