Mitt Romney’s tough — and inaccurate — response to a fatal attack on the American Consulate in Libya last week is not sitting well with voters, according to several new polls.
Romney drew widespread condemnation in the press, including from some Republicans, for accusing the president of “sympathiz[ing]” with rioters who stormed diplomatic compounds in Egypt and Libya while the situation was still ongoing. Few Republican lawmakers backed Romney up as the White House accused him of politicizing a sensitive international crisis.
Polls show significant swaths of America are interested in the Mideast attacks and generally unhappy with Romney’s reaction.
A Monmouth University survey released Monday indicated that 90 percent of respondents were familiar with the crises in Libya and Egypt, including 61 percent who had heard “a lot” about it. Among likely voters, Obama got positive marks for his handling of the situation from 39 percent of respondents and negative marks from 27 percent. But only 25 percent approved of Romney’s behavior during the same period versus 29 percent who disapproved.
“If the past week was Mitt Romney’s opportunity to show how he would handle a foreign crisis, the GOP nominee did not put his best foot forward as far as voters are concerned,” Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a press release.
Another poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & Press, also released Monday, found that 43 percent of respondents followed the Mideast news “very closely” last week, more than the 42 percent who said they followed the presidential campaign with the same intensity. Obama earned high marks among those who paid close attention to the attacks: 45 percent approved of his handling of the situation, versus 36 percent who disapproved. Twenty-six percent approved of Romney’s response, versus 48 percent who disapproved.
On a state level, Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found that 48 percent of Virginia voters disapproved of Romney’s reaction to the Libya crisis, and 41 percent approved.
Whether this will impact Obama’s overall lead in the polls is another story. But at the very least, there’s clear evidence that Romney’s approach to the crisis itself did not sit well with the public, a worrisome development given the campaign’s high hopes last week to bring down the president’s longstanding advantage on foreign policy.
Update: A new poll by Reuters/Ipsos finds more bad news for Romney: 40 percent of respondents said his comments made them feel less favorable toward him, versus 26 percent who said they felt more favorable. As for Obama, 37 percent felt more favorable to him based on his response versus 26 percent who felt worse about him.
Update II: There is a possible bright spot for Romney on Libya in an otherwise rough NBC/WSJ poll released Tuesday evening. Obama’s foreign policy standing dropped abruptly in the survey — 49 percent now say they approve of his performance versus 54 percent who said the same last month.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.