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Torture: The Memos and Partisan Reaction

President Obama's decision to release Bush administration memos on controversial interrogation techniques highlights the sharp partisan divisions lurking beneath Obama's high approval ratings.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds most approve of the way Obama is handling the U.S. campaign against terrorism, including nearly four in 10 Republicans, but far fewer share his opinions on interrogation techniques used on those suspected of terrorism during the Bush administration.

Overall, a narrow majority approves of the Obama administration's release of the previously secret documents, 53 percent support the release, 44 percent oppose it. But Democrats and Republicans hold starkly different views on the matter, as well as on the use of torture in general and whether or not the new administration should investigate its predecessors for possible criminal activity in implementing enhanced interrogation techniques.

A majority of Democrats (55 percent) "strongly support" the president's decision to release the memos, while about six in 10 Republicans (61 percent) "strongly oppose" the release.

Basic views on torture divide the country nearly evenly - 49 percent said they oppose the use of torture no matter the circumstance, 48 percent said there are some cases in which the U.S. should consider it. Partisans align on opposite sides of the issue, with most Republicans (69 percent) saying they are open to torture in some cases and most Democrats opposing it in all cases (65 percent). Independents tilt toward considering it, 52 to 45 percent.

Opposition to the practice has declined across party lines since January; Only among liberal Democrats and moderates have views held steady. Conservatives have become sharply more open to the idea in the wake of the controversy over the release of the memos, 66 percent said the government should consider torture in some cases according to the new poll, it was 50 percent in January.

Americans are also divided on whether Obama should launch an investigation into the treatment of terrorism suspects under George W. Bush's administration. Just over half (51 percent) said there should be such an inquiry, 47 percent oppose it. Among partisans, views are sharply divided, with 68 percent of Democrats in favor of an investigation and 71 percent of Republicans opposed. Independents mirror the overall population, 50 percent in favor, 47 percent opposed.

Q. Obama has ordered the release of previously secret records of Bush administration policies on the interrogation of terrorism suspects. Do you support or oppose Obama's decision to release these records?

          --- Support --   --- Oppose ---
          NET   Strongly   NET   Strongly
All       53       35      44       32

Dem       75       55      23       11
Rep       22       11      74       61
Ind       50       31      46       33

Lib Dem   87       64      11        5
Con Rep   15        8      83       71

Lib       80       59      17        9
Mod       56       34      41       28
Con       33       21      65       52

Q. Do you think the Obama administration should or should not investigate whether any laws were broken in the way terrorism suspects were treated under the Bush administration?

        Should   Should not
All       51         47

Dem       68         30
Rep       26         71
Ind       50         47

Lib Dem   73         26
Con Rep   20         77

Lib       68         30
Mod       53         44
Con       36         62

Q. Obama has said that under his administration the United States will not use torture as part of the U.S. campaign against terrorism, no matter what the circumstance. Do you support this position not to use torture, or do you think there are cases in which the United States should consider torture against terrorism suspects?

       ------January------   -------April-------
       Never use  Consider   Never use  Consider
All        58        40          49        48       

Dem        71        28          65        32
Rep        42        55          30        69
Ind        56        43          45        52

Lib Dem    77        22          76        22
Con Rep    36        60          27        71

Lib        72        27          67        32
Mod        57        42          56        41
Con        47        50          31        66

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  April 26, 2009; 12:01 AM ET
Categories:  Post Polls  
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