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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Voters in the pivotal battleground states of Ohio and Florida show strong interest in global security issues, and want to hear the candidates’ views on defense, Iran and terrorism in the final presidential debate, according to a new poll conducted jointly by leading Democratic and Republican pollsters for Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
While the poll confirms conventional wisdom about the economy as the number one issue in this race, the survey finds that national security is a key issue for many voters in both states – almost as decisive a factor as the federal deficit and more important than taxes.
As the candidates head into the critical debate on foreign policy on Monday, Oct. 22, the poll shows voters have mixed views on US global engagement and are split almost down the middle on isolationism. Many are worried about the impact of the Arab Spring on US interests.
The bipartisan survey tested opinion on foreign policy issues among 600 active voters in Ohio and 603 voters in Florida. The survey was conducted for the Belfer Center by two of the nation’s leading pollsters, the Mellman Group, a Democratic polling firm, and Hill Research Consultants, a Republican firm, with assistance from GOP consultant Mike Murphy.
Echoing previous surveys, the findings show that many voters lack knowledge of some foreign policy issues – they are more familiar with Britain’s soccer star David Beckham than Prime Minister David Cameron – but they don’t lack interest in global issues.
They follow international affairs nearly as closely as they do domestic politics. And nearly twice as many voters want the media to report more on world affairs than less. Large numbers want more teaching on geography in schools, and say they favor more state and federal funding for teaching geography, language and world culture.
The survey—conducted from Oct. 3 (the date of the first debate) to Oct. 7 - found President Obama leading Mitt Romney in Ohio by 46% to 38% with 14% undecided, while Romney was ahead in Florida, 47% to 43%, with 7% undecided.
What voters want to hear in the final debate:
What voters want to know more about:
What voters worry about and why:
What voters know (and don’t know):
Belfer Center Director Graham Allison said the findings pose a challenge to educators as well as political leaders to engage citizens on foreign policy choices. “Clearly, voters have a vibrant interest in the world and understand its impact on American life and well-being,” Allison said. “Voters are rightly concerned about the potential implications of our leaders’ policy decisions on foreign affairs and security.”
The margin of error for the surveys in each state is plus/minus 4 percentage points.