Unlike the past two elections, both Democrats and Republicans face potential headaches in the fall voting if terrorism is a major concern, a poll suggests.
National security and terrorism have been decisive advantages for Republicans in the two national elections since the Sept. 11 attacks, but that may be changing, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
Thirty-five percent of those surveyed say they are very concerned that a Democratic takeover of Congress would weaken the fight against terrorism, according to the poll. But 46 percent say they are very concerned that if Republicans retain control, they will get the country involved in too many military missions.
The discovery last week of a plot to blow up airliners flying from Britain to the United States focused attention on the terrorism threat. Republicans and Democrats moved quickly to try to seize the political initiative after the failed attacks.
But terrorism is not the issue that voters most want candidates to focus on in the fall, the poll indicates.
People most want to hear candidates talk about education, high gas prices, health care costs and the war in Iraq. Only 2 percent named terrorism when asked which issue they most wanted to hear about this fall.
"The terrorism issue cuts both ways," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center. "It can disadvantage the Democrats who can be seen as not tough enough, but it can be more of a disadvantage for Republicans."
Kohut said the poll found that "independents are markedly more concerned about Republicans than they are about Democrats."
"The swing voters are more worried about the Republicans keeping control and that could be a problem for the GOP," Kohut said.
President Bush's approval rating remains in the low to upper 30s in various polls, including 37 percent in the Pew poll. It did not change significantly the Democrats' advantage on the question of whom people plan to vote for in the midterm elections.
Three in 10 surveyed said they do not want the incumbent in their district re-elected - as high an anti-incumbent sentiment as 1994, when the GOP swept to power in Congress.
The poll of 1,506 adults was taken Aug. 9-13 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.