Close Gitmo, but what next?

As POS partner, Glen Bolger recently commented to Politico, “This issue is at the intersection of good policy and good politics. All in favor of having Gitmo terrorists housed in your congressional district, raise your hand. Whoa — no hands go up!” Well, no kidding…

The more this issue gets discussed, the more the public seems to be questioning the wisdom in closing Gitmo. While it may seem like a simple idea to close the prison, what comes next is a huge headache for the Obama Administration – what do they do with the inmates?

In our recent NBC/WSJ survey,* 42{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of respondents say they approve of Obama ordering the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison for terror suspects while a majority (50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) say they disapprove. No surprise here – Democrats are more likely to approve of this action – 65{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} to 26{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} – while Republicans disapprove, 73{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} to 20{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}. Importantly though, Independents disapprove by almost a two-to-one margin (62{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove/32{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve).

Having your Base behind you in a key policy decision is obviously crucial, and having your opposition against you is to be expected – but to be at such a disadvantage among the middle of the electorate should give the Obama Administration cause for concern, especially when that’s just the start of the conversation.

Debating what to do with the inmates creates even more resistance. In a recent Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll,** voters were asked, “In talking about what might happen to detainees when the Guantanamo Bay prison is closed, recently National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair said some of the prisoners may be released into the United States and suggested it may be necessary to give them assistance for them to start a new life. Do you favor or oppose using taxpayer dollars to help prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay?” This trial balloon didn’t even get off the ground with a whopping 72{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} opposed to it.  And, on this point there is little partisan difference – 86{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Republicans, 78{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Independents, and 60{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Democrats would oppose this plan.

So, while in theory, Obama may enjoy some support from his Base on this issue, when it gets down to the nitty gritty of what to do next, even Democrats default to some good old “not-in-my-backyard”-ism – and it’s unlikely they’ll be putting their hands up any time soon to have Gitmo terrorists in their neighborhood.

*National survey of 1,005 adults conducted April 23-26, 2009.

**National survey of 900 registered voters conducted April 22-23, 2009.

(Public Opinion Strategies partners with Peter D. Hart Research Associates to conduct the NBC/WSJ polls. Neither Peter D. Hart Research Associates, NBC/WSJ, or Fox News/Opinion Dynamics are responsible for these conclusions.)

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