NBC/WSJ poll: Terror fears reshape 2016 landscape

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Obama on U.S. Anti-ISIS Strategy

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., have vaulted terrorism and national security to become the American public's top concern, and they've helped drive President Barack Obama's job rating to 43 percent -- its lowest level in more than a year, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

SEE ALSO: Moderate drinking may be tied to fewer deaths in early Alzheimer's

What's more, 7-in-10 Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction -- the highest percentage here since Aug. 2014.

And 71 percent say the shootings and random acts of violence that have taken place this year -- from Charleston, S.C., Oregon and Colorado, to the terrorist shootings in San Bernardino, Calif. -- are now are now a permanent part of American life.

"For most of 2015, the country's mood, and thus the presidential election, was defined by anger and the unevenness of the economic recovery," says Democratic pollster Fred Yang of Hart Research Associates, which conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies. "Now that has abruptly changed to fear."

Obama addressing recent terrorism:

16 PHOTOS
Barack Obama primetime address on terrorism 12/6
See Gallery
NBC/WSJ poll: Terror fears reshape 2016 landscape
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 6: U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the country from the Oval Office on December 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. President Obama is addressing the terrorism threat to the United States and the recent attack in San Bernardino, California. (Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 6: U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the country from the Oval Office on December 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. President Obama is addressing the terrorism threat to the United States and the recent attack in San Bernardino, California. (Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on December 6, 2015. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 6: U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the country from the Oval Office on December 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. President Obama is addressing the terrorism threat to the United States and the recent attack in San Bernardino, California. (Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)
IRVING, TEXAS - DECEMBER 06: Bar patrons watch as President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the Oval Office on December 6, 2015 at the DFW Airport in Irving, Texas. President Obama spoke about the government's campaign against the terrorist threat, following last week's attack in California. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
SAN BERNARDINO, CA - DECEMBER 06: Jonathan Tovar sits with his grandmother Helen Medina in her house, which was hit by bullets as police engaged in a gun battle with terror suspects on the street in front, as they watch President Barack Obama give a nationally-televised address from the White House about terrorism following the attack on the Inland Regional Center on December 6, 2015 in San Bernardino, California. Medina hid in her home as the police killed the terror suspects that attacked the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left 14 people dead and another 21 injured on December 2. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 6: U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the country from the Oval Office on December 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. President Obama is addressing the terrorism threat to the United States and the recent attack in San Bernardino, California. (Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 6: U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the country from the Oval Office on December 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. President Obama is addressing the terrorism threat to the United States and the recent attack in San Bernardino, California. (Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on December 6, 2015. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 06: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a national address from the Oval Office of the White House December 6, 2015 in Washington, DC Obama was expected to speak on his plans to battle the threat of terror attacks and defeating ISIL in the wake of last week's attack in San Bernardino, California. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
A bartender at a hotel near the Inland Regional Center watches President Obama speak on TV during the aftermath of a mass shooting that killed 14 people on Sunday, December 6, 2015 in San Bernardino, California, USA. AFP PHOTO/PATRICK T. FALLON / AFP / Patrick T. Fallon (Photo credit should read PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers an address to the nation in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015. Obama sought to soothe a nation shaken by the terrorist attack in a California town with assurances that the U.S. is hardening its defenses that were tempered by an acknowledgment that the threat to the country is ever-evolving. Photographer: Saul Loeb/Pool via Bloomberg
President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Sunday night, Dec. 6, 2016. The president announced no significant shift in U.S. strategy and offered no new policy prescriptions for defeating the Islamic State, underscoring both his confidence in his current approach and the lack of easy options for countering the extremist group. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)
President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Sunday night, Dec. 6, 2016. The president's speech followed Wednesday's shooting in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people and wounded 21. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 06: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a national address from the Oval Office of the White House December 6, 2015 in Washington, DC Obama was expected to speak on his plans to battle the threat of terror attacks and defeating ISIL in the wake of last week's attack in San Bernardino, California. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

That kind focus on security and terrorism "is a very different campaign than the one we thought we'd be running," McInturff adds, referring to the 2016 presidential race.

But Democratic pollster Peter Hart cautions that this focus could be temporary, especially if there isn't another terrorist attack. "Let's wait and see the half-life of this after the next three months."

In the poll, 40 percent of Americans say that national security and terrorism is the top priority for the federal government -- up 19 points from when this question was last asked in April.

That's compared with the 23 percent who think job creation and economic growth are the top issue -- down six points from when they had been the No. 1 concern last spring.

This finding is consistent with a recent Gallup poll, which showed terrorism as the public's most important U.S. problem.

Yet there's a significant partisan divide in the NBC/WSJ survey: 58 percent of Republican primary voters say national security/terrorism is their top concern, versus just 26 percent of Democratic primary voters who say that.

And 33 percent of Democrats say their top issue was the economy/jobs, versus just 12 percent of Republicans.

See presidential candidates running in 2016 below:

18 PHOTOS
All officially announced 2016 Presidential candidates
See Gallery
NBC/WSJ poll: Terror fears reshape 2016 landscape

Business mogul Donald Trump (R)

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont (D)

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson of Maryland (R)

(Photo/Paul Sancya)

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R)

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky (R)

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida (R)

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of New York (D)

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania (R)

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R)

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Former CEO, Businesswoman Carly Fiorina of California (R)

(Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images)

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas (R)

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Former New York Governor George Pataki (R)

(Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina (R)

(Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley (D)

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R)

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Ohio Governor John Kasich (R)

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore (R)

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

When asked which one or two news events defined 2015, the top answer was the terrorist attacks in Paris (at 29 percent). That was followed by the terrorist shootings in San Bernardino (at 23 percent), the mass shooting in Charleston (22 percent), the Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage across the country (19 percent) and the debates over the use of force by police (16 percent).

Obama's job-approval rating drops to its lowest point in a year

This focus on national security and terrorism comes as the NBC/WSJ poll finds President Obama's job-approval rating at 43 percent, which is down two points from late October.

Indeed, it is Obama's lowest overall standing since right before the 2014 midterm elections.

Just 37 percent approve of the president's handling of foreign policy, and only 34 percent approve of his handling of the terrorist militants known as ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

(By contrast, the overall approval rating for George W. Bush at this same point in time was 34 percent in the NBC/WSJ poll, and just 32 percent of his foreign-policy handling.)

In addition, only 20 percent of the public believes the country is headed in the right direction, versus a whopping 70 percent who think it's on the wrong track.

And 73 percent say they want the next president to take a different approach from President Obama's. "This will become a high hurdle for the Democrats at some stage of the 2016 election," says Yang, the Democratic pollster.

Political pendulum swings back to security over privacy

The NBC/WSJ poll also finds 60 percent of the country thinking that military action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria is in the nation's interest -- essentially unchanging from past polling on the subject.

Forty-two percent say this military action should include both airstrikes and combat troops; 36 percent say it should be limited only to airstrikes; and 12 percent say military action shouldn't be taken.

And when it comes to the security-vs.-privacy debate, the NBC/WSJ poll shows that the political pendulum has swung back to the side of security.

Fifty-five percent say they're more worried that the United States won't go far enough in monitoring the activities and communications of potential terrorists, versus 40 percent who are more worried the government will go too far

That's a reversal from July 2013 -- after Edward Snowden's revelations -- when 56 percent said they were more concerned that the government would go too far in its surveillance.

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Dec. 6-9 of 1,000 adults (including nearly 400 reached by cell phone), and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.

More from NBCNews.com:
Maryland Man Provided Material Support to ISIS
Congress Works to Avoid Government Shutdown
Antidepressants in Pregnancy Linked to Autism in Kids

Read Full Story

People are Reading