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Briefing for Journalists on America’s Place in the World [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service, Inc.]

Speakers: Andrew Kohut, President, Pew Research Center; director, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and Pew Global Attitudes Project, and Walter Russell Mead, Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy, Council on Foreign Relations
November 17, 2005
Council on Foreign Relations Washington, DC


[Rush Transcript; Federal News Service, Inc.]

ANDREW KOHUT:  (In progress) — Vietnam , another during the mid-’90s, the end-of-history phase of our history, and now in this survey.  This is a long-standing survey series that Gallupand Pew have been asking since 1960, and it’s pretty significant.  It could be transitory but it’s related to some other attitudes we have here.  We have sharply declining opinions of the United Nations.  Look at the favorability ratings of the U.N.: from a high of 77 percent in — that looks like about 2000 — down to a 48 percent expressing a favorable view of the U.N., and the percentage of people saying we should cooperate full with the U.N. is also down — two, I think, linked attitudes; something that bears watching.  A large part of this, at least for the opinion leaders, is pessimism about Iraq .  Most, save the military and save state and local officials, are pessimistic that we will think we will have failed in establishing a stable democracy in Iraq . 

Iraq is also seen as a major factor in global — I mean, let’s go back and say that the public is more optimistic than the opinion leaders, one of the interesting public leadership divides in the sample, but both the public and the opinion leaders see the war in Iraq as a major reason why there was discontent with the United States around the world.  Our survey data from the Pew Global Attitudes Project shows the same thing, as matter of fact.  There are other factors that weigh in pretty heavily.  Power is acknowledged both by leaders and the public as a factor.  The U.S.-led war on terrorism is also seen as a factor by the public, and our materialism, but opinion leaders point to U.S. support for Israel .

QUESTIONER:   You can pick more than one?  You can pick a couple?

KOHUT:  Yeah.  Well, I mean, it’s a question which says, is this a factor, is this a factor, is this a factor?

Second principal finding is that when it comes to President Bush and his policies, the partisan divide within opinion leaders and within the public is greater than the divide between leaders and the public.  There’s a lot of traditional divides between leaders and public, but that’s less important when it comes to Bush.  Partisanship is more important, and both the public and the influentials are more polarized about Bush then they were about Clinton , and Clintonwas a fairly polarizing figure. 

Here is the gap on opinion leaders in terms of approval of Bush — approval of both Bush and Clinton.  It was a 55-percentage-point gap between Republicans and Democrats among opinion leaders, but for Bush it’s 68 percentage points bigger.  Similarly, for the public there was a 52-percentage-point gap, but for Bush and Clinton, six percentage points.

So also not that the opinion leaders tend to have, as you’ll see in the survey, a less positive opinion of Bush than the public, even though the public ratings for Bush are obviously quite low.

Bush support has declined among the public and the influentials compared to what we found in the firs six, seven months of his administration back in 2000.  The declines are more precipitous among leaders than they are among the public, but that public number is a little outdated.  We did this poll in late September.  Our current survey has him at 36 percent.  In any event, it’s still a little bit higher than how the media looks at him, how council people look at him.  The public and — you know, the military gives him a relatively low rating, and the military is a pretty Republican group.  By the way, many — as has been the case in all of these surveys since ‘93 — many of these groups are more Democratic than Republican, at about the same ratio, as the case in the past.  Certainly that’s the case with foreign affairs people, academic and think-tank people, religious leaders, scientists and engineers.  State and local government looks more like the public; military looks more Republican.  But even at that, only 40 percent of the military people are giving Bush — are saying that they approve of the way he’s handling his job.

The best thing about Bush’s foreign policy, when we ask on an open-ended basis, is a mix of things — Afghanistan , the war on terrorism, relationship with others, his decisiveness.  It’s a scatter of things.  But there is no misconsensus about the worst things about his foreign policy; Iraqis the dominant answer in most cases.  But there is also significant mention of weakened alliances, interestingly often from the military, which is, again, an important measure because these are more Republican people than other leadership groups. 

There is affirmation — Bush’s calls for democracy in the Mid-East.  Most opinion leaders think it’s a good idea.  The public thinks it’s a good idea, but very few opinion leaders think it will succeed.  Most are in the category of, good idea; that will probably fail.

Another set of principal findings is despite its growing power, there is no greater alarm over China .  In fact,IndiaandChina— and India , as well as China , are seen as increasingly important allies to theUnited States in the future.  Franceis seen as less important to the the future.  Indiais the new France. 

Here is the temperate view of China— now, we have a trend on this and I didn’t — we didn’t put it in this slide; it was too complicated — but most groups see Chinaas a problem.  Very few see Chinaas an adversary.  There is no increase — any significant increase in any of these percentages — similarly with the public. 

MEAD:  And it’s interesting, by the way — the poll doesn’t give you the chance to say that you thinkChinais a good thing. 


MEAD:  The best, most positive thing you can say about Chinathere is it’s not much of a problem, so in fact this may even be skewed slightly toward a more negative consensus.

KOHUT:  We do know that the American public — we haven’t asked this question; maybe we’ll do it again the next time.  We asked opinion leaders, on balance, how do you feel about China ? 

MEAD:  Right.

KOHUT:  We asked an open-ended question which said, which U.S. allies — which countries will become more important U.S. allies, or less important?  India , China , as well as the U.K.were often mentioned as more important.  The consensus was that European countries, especially France , would be less important. 

Other principal findings: terrorism, weapons of mass destruction continue to be America ’s top foreign policy priorities — same as the public and opinion leaders — closely followed by energy independence.  As has been in the past, the public puts more emphasis than the opinion leaders on jobs and immigration. 

All right, here is the list of foreign policy priorities for the news media: 89 percent give the highest priority to terrorism in controlling the spread of weapons of mass destruction, but the energy independence is right behind.  That configuration was pretty much there in all of these groups.  There are some interesting differences that we’ve highlighted.  The state and local officials are more inclined to say energy independence.  The scientists and engineers point to global climate change.  Religious leaders talk about stopping genocide.  The general public gives protecting jobs as much priority as defending against terrorism, even more so than the spread of weapons of mass destruction

The other thing you should know about this is this is not too different than what we’ve found in the past.  I mean, we found terrorism, stopping weapons of mass destruction, even through the ‘90s, to be strong concerns of the American public.  One of the things that the 911 Commission got wrong was the claimed that the public opinion polls never covered public attitudes towards terrorism before September 11th.  That’s absolutely wrong. 

MEAD:  The difference is the elites now care more than before September 11th. 

KOHUT:  That’s right.  That’s exactly right.  We did, as did other — as did Gallup and other polling companies, that these numbers don’t reflect the real difference in change in priorities.  There is a little more concern, I believe — help me with this, Carol or Michael — more concern about immigration in this one among the public?

MEAD:  Well, we hadn’t asked about immigration among the public, but you see among the top, over 50 percent saying —

KOHUT:  Right, that’s not the case —

MEAD:  — among the elites.

KOHUT:  Amongst the elites.

We’ve been asking this question — we asked it overseas — should the U.S. remain the only military superpower, or would it be okay if another country or a group of countries became as powerful as the United States, and the public in — this is about the third or fourth survey where we’ve had a majority say the U.S. — U.S. policy should be to have the U.S. remain as the sole superpower.  Many of the groups agree with us, although there is more dissent on it among the opinion-leading groups — academic people, religious leaders, scientists and engineers — but the military, and not too surprisingly foreign affairs people, and state and local governments agree with the public.  Europeans and people in other countries — we’ve asked this in the Global Attitudes Project — overwhelming say the world would be a better place if the U.S.had a military rival.  But when we asked, would you like to see that military rival beChina , they overwhelmingly say no, in spite of the fact that Europeans have a better opinion, they say, of Chinathan of the United States — (inaudible).

Here is our question on torture, which we’ve asked before, and we continue to find a significant number — in this case 46 percent of the public — saying that torture of terrorist suspects is often or sometimes justified.  Walter points out — and I think he’s right — we should really look at the 32 versus the 68 —

MEAD:  It’s ever-never, really.

KOHUT:  It’s ever-never, and you get a pretty broad consensus that say at least rarely or more there is some justification for this.  But there is less — some of these are hard words to come out my mouth — less support for torture among the opinion-leading groups.  But they’re not that — many of them are not that — some of them are not that different than the public. 

MEAD:  Andy, did these numbers move after Abu Ghraib, because I remember we did this in 2004?

KOHUT:  I think they’re a little lower.  They’re a little lower with respect to preemptive war as well, but they still, on balance, pretty much —

MEAD:  This seems more or less like what we saw among the general public, maybe a few points —

KOHUT:  No, it hasn’t really moved.

MR.:  It hasn’t moved in the public.

MR.:  Now, I think there may be some elite changes. 

(Cross talk.)

KOHUT:  I don’t think we’ve done this on elites before.

MEAD:  Okay, okay.

KOHUT:  The public has been pretty steady in this. 

MEAD:  The thing is that rarely might be — if it’s a case of potential WMD attacks on American cities, a lot of people would say, well, that’s one of those rare cases.  So it may be sort of a more inclusive thing than one might think, I’m afraid.

KOHUT:  Finally, there is not too much confidence that public diplomacy can change the U.S.image in the world.  Security people, foreign affairs people, most of these groups, save religious leaders and state and local government people, the military more or less, aren’t too confident that public diplomacy can do much.  The public is — continues to be skeptical about the impact of NAFTA.  Leadership groups think it’s been good for the country — again, the traditional divide between leaders and the public on trade issues.  And that’s it. 

LEE FEINSTEIN:  Thank you, Andy.

KOHUT:  There is lot more in this poll.  Obviously it’s in these reports that you all have. 

FEINSTEIN:   Thank you, Andy.  I think that there is a tremendous amount in this poll, and I think it’s some very important findings.

Walter, your turn.

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD:  Okay, well, I would begin — commend the poll to you and suggest that it’s well worth looking, reading not only the summary that Andy has — that you folks have put together, but to look at the back numbers that — one of the things that I like about the way Pew does these polls — and now they’ve been doing this kind of in-depth polling, not only in the U.S. but in a lot of countries, and are getting some real experience at it, is it’s much better — the traditional poll is trying to find out how people will vote in an election, or asking one question.  Here we’re trying to paint a portrait of the public mind, and all instruments, I think, are blunt when it comes to some of this, but it’s very interesting to see, I think, how much American traditional attitudes toward the world, toward foreign policy in these general public surveys are continuing forward, that you’ve got a portrait here of a public that wants the government primarily to protect it from dangers that people can’t protect themselves from.

So you look at the public priorities you’re seeing.  You know, protect me from terrorists, protect me from, I think we can say, global economic change that threatens my livelihood, whether that’s in the form of protecting American jobs or keeping illegal immigrants out.  Protect me from attacks by WMD.  Protect me from diseases.  They want to be protected.  This is something, if you think about it logically, as elites tend to do, that engages you actually in a fairly widely ranging global policy, because you can’t achieve these goals by simply building walls. 

So there is a kind of an inherent tension where you have a public that wants to be protected, an elite that realizes this requires sort of a positive global policy of engagement rather than a negative one of withdrawal, but clearly there are issues where it’s hard for the elite, whether we talk about a kind of a more liberal, internationalist Democratic elite or a more unilateratlist, nationalist Republican elite — it’s hard for them to sell specific programs to people.  And I think right now what we may be seeing is something of a collapse of — or at least a test of confidence on both sides of the political spectrum.  That is to say, the sort ofIraqwar neoconservative — if you want to call it that — foreign policy of the first Bush term has not made people feel safer, at least to judge from this poll.  On the other hand, if you look at some of the traditional sort of banners of Democratic foreign policy, whether it’s the United Nations or global trade arrangements that were very big — characteristic of the Clinton policies — or humanitarian intervention, these things also are not — don’t seem to command a lot of confidence.  So part of what we’re seeing in American foreign policy, I think, is both sets of rival elites struggling to find both a language to explain what they’re doing, and perhaps new strategies to achieve their goals that can get greater public support. 

I think we’re seeing — this poll at least is showing some signs of a historic shift in American foreign policy; that is to say, from a Euro-centric Atlanticist foreign policy toward an Asia-centric Pacific foreign policy.  We see this, I think, earliest in elite attitudes.  What you’ve got is a kind of a sentimental attachment to the European alliance, and a desire not to see the loss or the waning of what people do view as an asset, but also a kind of a sense that as we go forward, this is something of a wasting asset, this Atlanticist connection, and that the future is over the Pacific, and I think it’s quite striking that the only European country which a lot of people identify as become more important to the U.S. in the future is the U.K., and that there is, I think — Andy points this out in his narrative — there is no Asian country which the military, or indeed most of the other elites, identify as becoming less important to the United States.  It’s all the other way.

It’s also interesting that Latin America — despite the concern over immigration, Mexicodoesn’t figure as a country that’s likely to become more important to theUnited States.  And that’s an elite sentiment but I think it suggests some traditional attitudes towardLatin America are very much with us.

Finally, I think the poll seems to suggest less a passionate rejection of internationalism by the American people than a sort of a sad disillusionment would be the way I think I would interpret the U.N. — it’s not, the U.N. is getting weaker, yeah! — but the U.N. is getting weaker, sigh.  And in a sense the Bush administration has succeeded in convincing a lot of people of its negative case against international institutions and against the old-fashioned form of liberal internationalism, even though it’s failed to convince them that its positive alternative is successful.  And Democrats have generally had more headway persuading people that Bush’s Iraqpolicy has been a mistake than they’ve had convincing people of positive alternatives.

So that I think is where we are at this moment.  If I had to guess what it portends for the future, I’d say from this standpoint right now, it looks like a good Democratic year in 2006, but I would say this poll probably doesn’t necessarily translate into good news for Democrats in the next presidential election.  That — we are very far away from that.

FEINSTEIN:   Always a mistake to follow Walter, but I will do so as part of the home team.  I think the — (cross talk, laughter).  This is a spontaneous —

MEAD:  The microphone should just always be pointing at me.  That was my — (cross talk).

FEINSTEIN:   The main message that I take from this poll is that September 11th is losing its power to shape American’s views on foreign policy.  In the wake of 9/11 Americans were prepared to support a more muscular foreign policy, and more than four years later, two years into theIraqwar, I think this poll shows that foreign policy activism looks much less appealing.  I think Andy pointed to a number of findings that support that, including the mind-your-own-business finding, which was true for the public, and even more so for the elite.

And clearly what is shaping people’s attitudes is Iraq , which is casting a long shadow over public opinion and elite opinion.  The costs of Iraqare dear and people don’t want to pay it.  Iraqis the worst aspect of the president’s foreign policy, according to the poll, and I think, very importantly, half of the public and a large majority of most elites think that the resort to war was the wrong decision.  And the public is divided on the question on the question of whether theIraqwar is helping or hurting the war on terrorism.  And that number, if I’m not mistaken, included as well the military, which was divided on this question — otherwise skewed more favorably towards the president and the war.

The 9/11 effect is losing its luster.  The majority polled said that luck was the main reason that theUnited States has not been attacked again.  They said that the ability of terrorists to strike today is about the same as it was in 2001.  Terror remains a foreign policy priority, but as Andy said, that for the public is not new.  The public has always seen terrorism as a major foreign policy concern, unlike the esteemed elites in this room and elsewhere. 

I want to support something that Walter said.  I think it’s easy to interpret this as a descent into isolationism.  I think it’s closer to a return to the views the public held prior to 9/11.  The question is, this is a snapshot, and what I hope we find out and learn about together is what the movie shows.  The snapshot shows that we’re back maybe to 9/10; will the movie show that this is a continuing downward trend?  That, I think, is an open question.

Well, how will the polls be read by the political elites?  I think the hold of theVietnamframework for the American political system is extremely impressive, and it has endured now from the eviction of Saddam Hussein fromKuwaitthrough humanitarian interventions of the 1990s, and then again with the second Iraqwar.  So in the absence of another foreign policy framework, the political parties are going to pitch a much less activist foreign policy, which in the short term will ratify the public’s discontent with the Iraqwar.  The Congress is likely to become much more assertive on foreign policy issues, and we began to see that two days ago in the Senate.

For the president, the news is relentlessly bad.  The president tried to reignite the fires of his foreign policy revolution in 2005 by pivoting from anti-terrorism to advancing democracy, but the polls show very, very little support for democracy as the lynchpin of American foreign policy.  Andy pointed to one number, which was that people think it’s a good idea that’s not likely to work, but there was another number which asked people to pick foreign policy priorities, and democracy scores low across the board.  Andy pointed to the president’s disapproval ratings.  I would just point out that there is very little difference on this question and on other key findings across regions, which is extremely interesting.  So the red and blue state divide at least does not show up on a regional basis in this poll, if you can look at pages 40 and 42.  Although there is a partisan divide, as Andy pointed out, there is not an evident regional divide on presidential approval and other key findings, which was extremely interesting.

So I think the bottom line on Iraqis — and this is historically true, as Andy can attest to better than I can — about wars, is you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression on Iraq .  Once a public sours on a war, they don’t unsour, and the consequences to the president’s foreign policy are that the revolution is over.

Let me just say, however, that there is very little in this poll to make liberal internationalists happy.  U.N. favorability is down.  Over the course of the U.N.’s history, the U.N.’s favorability rating was consistently positive.  It’s only in recent years that we are beginning to see negative numbers, and this poll identifies a downward trend, which I think is extremely significant.  Every category, including liberal Democrats, are unhappy with the U.N.

MEAD:  Including African Americans.

FEINSTEIN:   Including African Americans.  You still get majority favorable ratings for the U.N. among liberal Democrats and other traditional constituencies, but it’s double-digit declines in the favorability rating of the U.N.  And I would endorse what Walter said about that, which is that this does not — well, let me make one point before I reach that conclusion.  What the poll does not measure is what I’ve seen in my judgment as less U.N. bashing so that those who are critical of the U.N. within the Republican Party are less anti-U.N. than they used to be.  And I think the reason for that is effectively the realities of being in power for five years and the need to be diplomatic and do business with the institutions you have.  But I think that the bottom line of the poll and these other trends with respect to the U.N. is what we are seeing is a more sober assessment of the U.N. instead of the extremes of loving it or leaving it. 

I would just conclude by saying that the poll points to the reassertion of some of these verities of American public opinion when it comes to foreign policy.  Jobs, trade, immigration, counter-narcotics are all a much higher priority for the public than they are for the elites.  Republicans and Democrats see the world differently, and the public is ill-informed on certain factual questions.  The public doesn’t know which states have nuclear weapons but nonetheless says weapons proliferation is a top foreign policy priority, and by the way, we should be prepared to use them first.  Page 101 has some interesting information about which countries have nuclear weapons. 

I would say, just to go back to the beginning, that 9/11 did have some lasting effects: first, foreign policy saliency.  And this poll doesn’t measure that, but an earlier poll that we did, in collaboration with Andy — or that Andy did in collaboration with us — did show that foreign policy was the top issue in the presidential campaign, and I suspect that if you were to measure that again, you would continue to find that foreign policy is much more salient an issue than it was in August 2001 when Pew conducted this poll before. 

Preemption is, I would say, now an enduring feature of American foreign policy, at least in rhetoric if not necessarily in practice. 

Then the other thing I would say endures is that the fall in U.S.prestige has registered as a U.S.concern, and that that registered as a concern even when the 9/11 effect was arguably greater.  And this divides along partisan lines in the sense that it’s more pronounced among Democrats than Republicans, but it is something that cuts across the board.  It’s a widely recognized phenomenon.  And I think that that has changed how Americans think about foreign policy.

FEINSTEIN:   We’ve all spoken for some time now, so I’ll open the floor to you.

Ms. Zakaria.

QUESTIONER:   I have a technical question and another question.  The one that says mind its own business internationally and it said 42 percent said the U.S.should mind — and then it was compared with 30 percent in 2002.  This is a quadrennial report, but some of the times you compare with other years.

KOHUT:  We ask these questions just about every year, not only in association — not only as part of this survey.  If you look in the back of this report, there is the complete trend line on all of the questions.

QUESTIONER:   I can see all the years for that.

KOHUT:  You can see all the years.

QUESTIONER:   But I was just wondering why, compared to 2002 — but I guess I’ll look at the numbers, because that seemed like a crucial —

KOHUT:  Because it was a low point — a low point in saying that we should ignore the rest of the world.

QUESTIONER:   Okay.  And also, you didn’t interview business leaders, and they seem to be another category of influentials.

KOHUT:  We in the past haven’t interviewed business leaders, but to be honest with you, it has become so impossible to interview business leaders who want to have us interview the public relations advisors that we’d rather not do something poorly than — rather not do something than do it poorly, so we dropped it.

QUESTIONER:   I guess the reason — well, I have to ask that question now because I work for Bloomberg, but if you’re looking for who cares about this poll — like if people are investing and they’re operating around the world, and the global economy and all these things, I mean, ultimately — I mean, will this poll have an impact either on that or will it affect the president’s decision-making?  I mean, is he suddenly going to scrap democracy building because Americans don’t think it’s going to work or they don’t really care about it?

KOHUT:  We don’t do public opinion polls to tell the president what to do; we do public opinion polls to elucidate public opinion so leaders who are interested in the public and the public itself has a sense of what public opinion is.

MEAD:  It’s likely, though, that if the president’s advisors — the president says he doesn’t read polls, so presumably he won’t read this, but I think he’s probably got some people who work for him who do read polls.  (Laughter.)  And if they read this poll, the message to them is that pushing democracy promotion as the lynchpin of policy in the Middle Eastwill not replace WMD as an engine of support for the war.  In fact, it may undercut because sending troops abroad in harm’s way for democracy promotion scores very low with the general public on reasons for sending troops. 

And so an advisor to the president would probably say, you need to talk about the strategic importance of Iraqto global oil markets, and things like that; that you’d be better off in public opinion, to some degree, talking about a war for oil than a war for democracy.

FEINSTEIN:   And the interesting thing is that this is a dilemma for the president and it’s a dilemma for his critics, both Republican and Democratic critics of the president because it doesn’t make it clear what the alternative basis for a policy is.  If you’re looking for a more positive message about American policy, foreign policy, the answer is not democracy promotion. 

MEAD:  At least the domestic answer. 


MEAD:  And this is — you know, one of the classic problems in foreign policy is that domestic ideas that have legitimacy and saliency with your public are not necessarily the same ones that work out there, but when you give a press conference or when you talk about what you’re doing, people read it in both places.  So trying to craft a message that works out there and in here is a perennial problem for Americans.  And again, a way to understand that dilemma is to look at the contrast between of Andy’s global values and international public polling, and what Americans tell you they want, and it’s very tough in wartime for the president to negotiate — any president to negotiate that contrast.

QUESTIONER:   Just to follow up, Walter — sorry — so you’re saying that his advisor would say, when you’re talking about Iraq, when you’re talking about the Middle East, this democracy promotion thing is not working; drop that from the script.

MEAD:  Not drop it because —

QUESTIONER:   De-emphasize or —

MEAD:  Right, make it — this poll would tell you, as an administration advisor, make a strategic case for what winning, or indeed, what losing this — what impact losing the war would have on things that Americans recognize as vital to their safety, so that if you were to say, if the insurgents were to take over in Iraq, all of the Iraqi oil money would go — they would be able to use that for promoting terrorism, acquiring WMD — you could make a case that losing the war is unacceptable even if you can’t make a case that winning the war will bring in utopia.  So that would be one way that you might argue this poll in terms of a policy.

KOHUT:  I want to add a footnote to these questions about promoting democracy.  We’ve been asking this question since 1993 and it hasn’t changed with respect to the priority that the elites or the public give it.  It’s always sort of at the bottom of the list, and I was surprised that among Republicans there was not even much of a list within the public for the idea that promoting democracy around the world should be a significant priority for the United States government.

FEINSTEIN:   The only thing I would very briefly add, in a little bit of contradiction to what Walter says, is the public is divided on the question of whether Iraqis helping or hurting the war on terror.

MEAD:  Right.  Well, this is —

FEINSTEIN:   And that’s a case he has to make; that’s my point.

MEAD:  Yeah.

FEINSTEIN:   So it’s a dilemma for the president.

We have a list.  Tom is next.

QUESTIONER:   Just to try to encourage you to flesh out a little bit more this broad portrait of the public as it stands today.  It seems as though the image that you’re conveying is of a public that has not, for lack of a better term, glommed onto the social action agenda that some people optimistically suggested as a future course of American foreign policy 9/11; that is, sort of deal with the so-called root causes of terrorism, not only in terms of defensive — measures of defense, intelligence, law enforcement, et cetera, but poverty, engagement in the broadest sense.  But that call for social action was largely not heard, and instead the public is in more hunkered-down mode.  They want practical security-building exercises but as narrowly constructed as possible.

KOHUT:  Well, we’re a little bit in the post-post-9/11 period where the public’s — immediately after the attacks we saw an increase in internationalism, an increase in we have to be engaged, we have to do things — not so much humanitarian things, but things that bring us — we can’t ignore the world.  It’s a dangerous place and we have to be involved. 

There has been a backing off of that amongst the public in reaction, I’d say, to the way things are going in Iraq .  It could be, as Lee pointed out, a snapshot that’s transitory.  But it looks, as I showed you on that graph, very much like what we saw after Vietnam when the public was very disillusioned with our connections in the larger world, and also in the ‘90s when the public didn’t think it mattered that much.

QUESTIONER:   So a similar trajectory to pro-engagement feelings during the early and middle phases maybe of Vietnam , and then a falling back?

KOHUT:  That’s right.

FEINSTEIN:   The public — again, the public is not — doesn’t seem to be kind of instantly enticed by visions of building glittering palaces around the world.  It’s somewhat suspicious — probably if it thought you could do them and it wouldn’t cost much money we would say, why the hell not?  But there is a sort of — there is a sense of you’re not necessarily going to be able to achieve what you say — there’s skepticism about elites or political leaders who come saying, if you’ll vote me this and let me send your kids over to X, you know, I’m going to deliver something really nice.  And the administration I think is not — at the moment not selling the country on the idea that the Iraq war is a way to make you safer or more prosperous and in the absence of a feeling about that, talking about bringing democracy — even though a majority still feel that a stable democratic society in Iraq is the likely outcome, that alone does not, in the public’s mind, justify a war.

KOHUT:  This initial sense after 9/11 that internationalism was refound in the country —

FEINSTEIN:   And militarism.

KOHUT:  And militarism.

MR.:  We had a wonderful graph, I remember, when we did our report, and it was called Mothers for Missile Defense.  Do you remember?  (Laughter.)

MR.     :  Yeah, I do remember that.

MR.     :  I’m sorry.  Go ahead.

QUESTIONER:   I was just going to make, actually, a point in terms of a view from the world of journalism, is that I think that the internationalism, we feel it very keenly I think in our coverage of foreign affairs, that while there was a lot of relatively happy talk early on that this was going to lead to a re-blossoming of interest in the world in all of its richness, and how even down the road it might affect Americans in the United States, I actually rather see a narrowing since 9/11 in which a lot of the interests and energy that in the old days was sort of more broadly cast about the world is now refocused on narrow issues of terrorism and WMD at the expense of a sort of broader interest in the world.

KOHUT:  Well, it’s not too different than the Cold War.  During the Cold War the public’s interest in foreign affairs was seen through the prism of the Cold War.  Now it’s seen through the prism of the war on terrorism. 

QUESTIONER:   Is there anything in the poll that indicates that?

KOHUT:  No, but we have a ton of information about the public’s news interests, trends in news interests and what they pay attention to and it appears — (inaudible) — that we have great political material.

FEINSTEIN:   Terrific.


QUESTIONER:   I have one question about the poll and then another broader policy question.  The poll, I’m curious about — the word “partisanship” was scattered throughout this whole thing, and I wondered if you’re seeing more partisanship now than other periods in recent history.

KOHUT:  What we saw, Michelle, was a greater partisan divide over President Bush than there was over President Clinton.  It was pretty substantial.  And our surveys have shown in recent years that Republicans and Democrats have more different opinions on many issues, especially in the security area and foreign policy area than was the case in the past.  And this survey reinforces that, or shows that trend again.

QUESTIONER:   So this is just a long-term trend that it’s becoming, that foreign policy is becoming more partisan?

KOHUT:  Well, not only foreign policy, many other issues as well, which isn’t to say that there isn’t a middle — there isn’t still the possibility for centrism, but after 9/11 we’ve seen Republicans and Democrats become more further apart on many issues.

QUESTIONER:   Andy, just to follow up on that, how does that square with the regional — the lack of a regional divide in the —

(Cross talk.)

KOHUT:  Well, that’s because the red-blue divide is an exaggeration.  The state divide is an exaggeration.  Yes, there are states that are more consistently Republican, and you can find some really Republican states, like Mississippi, and some really Democratic states like Vermont or Massachusetts, but in the end there is — the correlations across states is really not all that great.  Witness the Democratic governor of Virginia , a classic red state. 

QUESTIONER:   So it’s a function of the Electoral College, which overstates the red-blue divide.  That’s the point?

KOHUT:  That’s right, and there is a fair amount of potential for Republicans in blue states and for Democrats in red states.

MEAD:  And there is probably more — it’s red and blue counties.  If you look at that you get a —

KOHUT:  Take it down to the more local —

MEAD:  In a sense it’s how many blue counties does a red state have before it becomes a blue state, because you look even in New York — New York State there are whole swaths of state that went for Bush. 

QUESTIONER:   I have a policy question, and I’m sorry to keep having to do this but that’s the nature of my business.  We saw Condoleezza Rice this week going out and making an effort on the Middle East,IranandNorth Korea.  They seem to be doing diplomacy versus what they were doing the first time, and I wonder if — I mean, you see the poll figures of this turn against Iraqand reality setting in.  I wonder if you’ve seen that in terms of the Bush administration’s policy, whether the reality ofIraqis setting in.  Are they doing diplomacy in a different way?

MEAD:  Well, I think one key thing to remember about second-term presidents is that their authority tends to wane normally in a second term.  A divergence opens up between the congressional interest of perpetual reelection and the fact that you have a president who’s not running again, and people start looking ultimately toward the future.

Second-term presidents — this was certainly true of Clinton , particularly after he lost control of Congress — find that foreign policy is the one place where they can still issue orders and have them obeyed, so that the president — if a second-term president wants to control the news cycle, the news agenda, going abroad is actually a good way to do it.  Foreign policy activism is where a president can show leadership, and given Bush’s circumstance where foreign policy, which was once working for him very strongly, is now not working for him as strongly — although we should point out that even though people think that it’s luck that we haven’t had an attack since September 11th, the war on terror is still Bush’s strongest point with the public.  Fifty-two percent of the general public still approve of the way he’s handling the war on terror.  If you took that number away, I think his ratings would really collapse, as opposed to gradually decline. 

So, trying to turn the tide to some degree on foreign policy, or perceptions of foreign policy, may be seen as strategically important for a president who can’t necessarily get an ambitious domestic agenda passed quickly at this point.

FEINSTEIN:   I would see it slightly differently, in the following way:  In the Clinton years, the first term was a domestic agenda term, and the second term was the classic foreign policy term that Walter talked about.  I would contend that it’s the opposite this time around.  I mean, obviously you have a war so you have to focus on foreign policy, but this administration in the second term is not interested in making huge advances for advancing the revolution in foreign policy that it pursued in its first term.

Condoleezza Rice is Warren Christopher with clout in the White House.  Warren Christopher’s assignment in the first Clintonterm was just to manage the foreign policy portfolio but don’t let it dominate the agenda.  And I think Secretary Rice has been given a mandate to address these problems that have been hanging out there in a pragmatic way so that they don’t interfere with the rest of the agenda.

MEAD:  And I would actually agree with part of that and say that it’s interesting that Secretary Rice — that virtually all of the criticism that one hears of the Bush foreign policy is addressed toward the first term of the administration, when at least it was perceived that, say, Cheney and Rumsfeld had much bigger voices than Colin Powell, the secretary of state.  There have been very few things since Condoleezza Rice became secretary of state that have been the kind of object of the same deep, bitter criticism, either at home or abroad, since then. 

So in that sense, what it looks like — it looks increasingly as if American foreign policy is being run out of the State Department and in a way that much more accords with what you might call traditional norms of diplomacy and foreign policy.


QUESTIONER:   The comparison of the opinion leaders and the public — I wanted to hear a little bit more about why that’s important to do it, because there was a lot of effort done to get opinion leaders versus the public, or at least the comparison, and based on what’s important about doing that, what are the things that are most noteworthy and what should we take away in comparison, other than the fact that maybe they tilt Democratic?  It’s obviously important to know what they think compared to what the public thinks, but what’s your thinking on why you like to do both, and what do you see in there that really strikes you as the most important?

MEAD:  Well, that’s really a question for Andy.

KOHUT:  We’ve had this discussion, though.  Do you want to get a response from these guys?

QUESTIONER:   Yeah, I was kind of interested in the Council on Foreign Relations’ take on why it’s important to hear what opinion leaders say.

FEINSTEIN:   Well, partly it’s a road test and a reality check for the elites to see what they public thinks versus what they think, and I think that this comes — this is crystal clear on the issues of terrorism, where we’ve talked about this divergence historically between the public and the elite, and then on these other issues which elites tend not to pay as much attention to, like the war against drugs, or immigration policy, or trade.  Well, elites pay a lot of attention to trade but they see it very, very differently.  The public talked about foreign policy — the role of foreign policy as protecting American jobs, which is a very, very different way from how the public — how elites would see that issue.

So I think that contrast is extremely important.  And in terms of identifying trends, the public has been a lot more prescient than the elites in many cases, particularly, you know, on the issue of terrorism.

MEAD:  And I think it’s not just a reality check for elites, which it is, and an important one.  It’s also, I think, useful for the public to get a look at this same thing and try to understand the gaps between the way they feel and the way the elites feel, but it’s also very interesting to look at the differences between elites and among elites, be it the fact that, you know — and since the military and state and local governments seem much more closely to parallel the public on most questions — I mean, you can find some divergences here.

I’d say there, by the way, the biggest surprise in these poll numbers are the fact that religious leaders in this poll are skewing somewhat to the left of both the public and even other elites except for the scientists who appear to be all voting for Howard Dean — (laughter) — as far as I can tell from this poll.  And I think that — and people who have been reading a lot about how religion is becoming this very powerful force in American politics and how George Bush is leading a kind of an evangelical charge to transform American thinking may look at some of these religious leaders things and wonder what’s going on. 

It looks, as far as I can tell — I’ve had some talks with the Pew folks about this — that what you’ve got there is because — is it to some degree evangelicals may be underrepresented in a religious sample?  You would still get a majority of non-evangelical leaders in the religious world, but this tends — this poll tends to be looking — identifying leaders of institutions and denominations among leaders, and the National Council of Churches, which while it contains some denominations that would be evangelical either in labeling or reality, in general the leadership of those is viewed as more closely aligned to mainstream Protestant.  So that would be the one case, it seems to me, that you need to look behind the numbers. 

FEINSTEIN:   On the religion point — and I think this point about looking among and between the elites is really critical — it helps to explain some of the decisions, I think, the president has made in terms of how he sells his foreign policy.  So for example, on the issue of genocide, which I would say is an area where evangelicals and other —

MEAD:  Evangelicals also dislike genocide.


FEINSTEIN:   Also dislike genocide.  And they also prioritize it —

MEAD:  Right, right, absolutely.

FEINSTEIN:   — and have lobbied the White House very effectively on this question.  And so I think that may help to explain some of the president’s choices about foreign policy and the squeaky-wheel theory of decision-making.

I’ll put Jocelyn (sp) on the list.  Renee (sp) is next.  (Pause.)  I’m adding Jocelyn to the list but I’ve got Renee first.

QUESTIONER:   Oh, I’m next?  Okay — sorry. 

This is one follow-up technical question that’s I’d like to ask a broader one too.  On religion, then, the sampling doesn’t represent the strength of evangelicals in America .  Is that correct?  Like did you add —

KOHUT:  It’s pretty close to the percentage of — the sample — we have 36 religious leaders.

QUESTIONER:   Thirty-six, okay.  (Cross talk.)  That’s what I wanted to know too.

KOHUT:  All of the leadership samples are small, but there is some — there is about an appropriate registration of evangelicals in that sample — a little lower than you would expect, but for 36 the numbers are going to be a little — you can’t ask too much of a representative, and it’s relative to the population, but I think Walter’s point is the right one, and that is these are leaders of larger religious organizations, or churches, or whatever, and therefore we probably under-represent the more conservative leaders of small evangelical movements in churches. 


KOHUT:  And I think that’s worth noting.

MEAD:  In this same way, by the way, that the academics and think-tank leaders are presidents of universities, so you shouldn’t think of this — and deans, so this is not necessarily representative of faculties.  So you need to — you know, in polling elites you have to try to figure out who are you going to talk to and how, so you should be very careful to look at each of these and figure out exactly who it is.  And they’ve been very good about giving you the information that you need to understand who’s being polled and who isn’t on these.  I think in some ways the scientists may be a better guide in some ways to university faculties who are not at that top administrative level.

KOHUT:  But all of the people at the top administrative level at universities are of course solid.

MEAD:  That’s true, but Larry Summers probably doesn’t represent the opinion of his faculty — (laughter) — at least as far as I can tell, on some questions.

QUESTIONER:   The broader question was, among the public, did the poll give some light — shed some light on what accounts for the changing views on Iraq ?  Is it that the war has ground on?  And also, how well informed does the public seem to be about some basic facts, for example, surveys had shown for a long time that a large percentage of Americans believed that Saddam was somehow connected with 9/11.  Have factual views improved over time?

KOHUT:  I don’t think that — I think there is still a lot of confusion in that realm.  I mean, the public conflates the two because the public has looked upon — the essential premise of public support for the war in Iraq was we’re in a dangerous time; America is under a threat from Muslim radicals and Saddam is a sworn enemy of the United States from a dangerous part of the world, and we’re better off — we’re better off without him.  That’s one of the premises that kept public support for the war up there even though we failed to find weapons of mass destruction, one of the most important things about public opinion.

When the public became aware of the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction, support for the war did not meaningfully decline because the public came to the conclusion we are better off without Saddam Hussein.  But the decline for the support of the war is related to the steady, not increased rate of American casualties, and no greater sense that we’re making progress in seeing Iraqbecome a stable country.  In other words, the costs tended to increase, even though — I’m sure if you asked the question, are we better off without Saddam Hussein you’d get 75 percent saying yes. 

But the costs are now higher and the public doesn’t see — to use a metaphor from another war — the light at the end of the tunnel.  Their impatience grows, their concerns grow, the percentage of people asking for a timetable grows ever larger, and we even now have a significant minority saying get out now no matter what, but it’s still a minority.

There is a good deal more resilience in public opinion about the war — support for the war in Iraqthan I think is popularly believed.  It has not gone into freefall but it has steadily declined, and it didn’t decline in a way that we saw the decline in support for the war in Vietnam , which was associated with one big event where there was an epiphany — the Tet Offensive.  We haven’t had an epiphany but a slow recognition on the part of the public, or slow growing belief on the part of the public that the costs were too high.

FEINSTEIN:   Okay, we have 10 minutes left, so we’ll try to get everybody in if we can.  James is next.

QUESTIONER:   In terms of the growing importance of Asia— it’s perhaps not a big surprise, but to what extent is that, just on an economic level, did anything come into the survey in terms of on the political level, and obviously the U.S.looked like — (inaudible) — in terms of support against the fight on terrorism.  So is the growing importance in Asia, both on an economical level for trade but also on the political front and the fact that obviously you’ve got very populous Muslim countries there as well, is there anything on the survey to indicate that politically as well, those relationships are growing?

KOHUT:  Well, I think it has to do with other factors.  I think it has to do with the recognition of — (inaudible).  How would you guys answer that?

MEAD:  At this point, even among elites it’s a China-India, say, rather than a Malaysia-Philippines.

QUESTIONER:   Right.  And the idea of China , you know, still being a concern — again, was that more on an economical level or was that —

KOHUT:  I think it’s on a broader geopolitical basis.

MEAD:  Growing out of the recognition that China ’s economic growth clearly implies changes in power, but I think — my interpretation of the way elites are looking at this would be to say that they see India ’s growth as a way of changing the context in which you look at China ’s growth.

QUESTIONER:   Correct me if I’m wrong here, guys, because we asked the question in the Global Survey in the United States and around the world whether China ’s increased economic power was a good thing or a bad thing, and I thought we had, on balance, a positive view in theUnited States.  Do you all remember that?

MR.:  I don’t remember off the top of my head, no.  Sorry.

MS.:  I don’t remember that.

QUESTIONER:   This is not the global gang, but somewhere there is — we have a question on that.  My impression was that there wasn’t a lot of alarm about that amongst the public.

FEINSTEIN:   I would just say in the Chinapoint that the public’s views affect and are affected by what a president says, and the administration’s views onChinaare unclear at the moment.  China was a priority at the beginning of the administration, and 9/11 and Iraq put China in a different place, and the administration is very much in a place where it has not decided on a strategy either of containment or a hedge strategy or some combination of the two, and I think that that may partly explain the declining emphasis on China as a threat.

I have Jocelyn next on the list.

QUESTIONER:   Just two quick questions.  Do you think the fact thatFranceis considered as a country that’s going to become less important is related to the fact that it did not support the Iraqwar?  And one thing I found that’s interesting here; I think among the majority of the public, most of them believe that Iraq is going to turn into three countries — one for Shi’ites, one for Kurds, and one for the Sunnis.

KOHUT:  That was the elites.

QUESTIONER:   The elites.

(Cross talk.)

MEAD:  Some elites.  Some elites think it will turn into three; some don’t.

KOHUT:  Not the military.

QUESTIONER:   I find that kind of interesting too.  I mean, how would that be perceived by the Bush administration, which would be a failure of its policy over there too?

FEINSTEIN:   You take the first question.

KOHUT:  With respect to France, I think that respondents are looking at France as kind of a symbol of declining European importance to America relative to Asian importance, and it also probably reflects some discontent with French criticisms of U.S. policies, even though this is not a sample of people who turned against — (inaudible) — over American foreign policies themselves, but there is probably a bit of nationalistic response there.

MEAD:  Yes, and it’s important to note that the groups that show the diminishing importance ofFranceto the U.S.tend to be anti-Bush groups, the elites, rather than the more pro-Bush populace.  And it’s one of the most widely spread findings. 

QUESTIONER:   And the three countries — I mean, how do you interpret that?

KOHUT:  The three countries?  I think that represents among elites judgment that it’s going to be hard to bring these three religious ethnic factions together, and probably many of them think — not to put words in our respondents’ mouths — that we already have the makings of a low-grade civil war there.

FEINSTEIN:   I would say for elites, skepticism is cool, so the cool position to have to is that things will go poorly.  That’s what elites do.  They are very skeptical.  (Laughter.)  And I think the fact that the public has a different view is also the fact that people tend to — the degree to which the public has been negative about this is just not so much about the likelihood of a civil war, because I suspect that if you asked — maybe you did ask and I didn’t notice — what the three major groups are in Iraq, most of the public wouldn’t be able to identify them.

KOHUT:  I don’t think we asked that question of the public.

FEINSTEIN:   So I don’t think it’s that significant.  I think in general it’s just — as far as the public is concerned it just reflects optimism or pessimism about the way Iraqwars go.

MEAD:  But 56 percent of the public still thinks, at least in this poll, that there will be a stable democratic Iraqi society, so that’s — the elites are far more pessimistic about that.  Again, the military are the most optimistic of the elites about the future of Iraq .  So I tend to think this the kind of — elites both tend to be skeptical and tend to go to extremes.

FEINSTEIN:   Okay, we have just about — just under five minutes, so I have Jonathan and James on the list.  Why don’t we take both of the questions together and then we’ll give everybody a chance to wrap up.

QUESTIONER:   Sorry, I wasn’t here at the beginning, and you may have answered this, but I’m just trying to get a sense of how important it is to Americans when they believe that their image is being damaged by the Iraqwar — how much they’re worried about this public perception of how they’re viewed by the rest of the world.  Is that something that you address at all here?  I mean, obviously — you know, most countries worry about economy and —

KOHUT:  We have asked that question fairly consistently, and I believe we have questions in this poll as well, and really what you have is a conflicted point of view about this.  On the one hand, Americans say this is a very important problem that we don’t have allied support, that we’re not well regarded.  And so on balance you have, on one hand, the American public say this is a problem; on the other hand — and this view was held very significantly in a poll that we did with the council in August in ‘04 — on the other hand, come November 4th last election, the American public voted for George W. Bush, and mostly on the basis of foreign policy.  On balance, his foreign policy is not seen as not necessarily multilateralist. 

So I think there is a conflicting view on the part of the American public.  Yes, we would like to — in fact, we pointed it out in our poll a year ago — yes, we want more allied support.  We think it’s a problem that we’re not well liked.  But on the other hand, we support preemptive war — going ahead without international approval and also going ahead and making war without international approval.  The American public has a tension within it about its allies.

QUESTIONER:   When you ask people about, you know, what matters most to you, do they — I mean, I guess they say, it’s the economy first.  And where in the ratings is foreign policy?

(Cross talk.)

KOHUT:  Pardon me?

QUESTIONER:   Where in the ratings is foreign policy?

KOHUT:  Well, foreign policy rates relatively high because Iraqis under the rubric of foreign policy.

MEAD:  I was going to say that you can see this tension:  White evangelicals identify fairly strongly with the idea forIsraelis one cause of unpopularity, but support for Israelis also very high among white evangelicals.  So there is a sense among some people that being aware that the world doesn’t like you, or 60 percent of the general public say American wealth and power is a leading cause of U.S.unpopularity in the world.  You wouldn’t find very high percentages of the public saying theUnited States should therefore become less wealthy and powerful in order to have more friends overseas. 

So it doesn’t necessarily translate into operational policy to say there is an intellectual recognition of a causal relationship, but I think it probably is stronger on the Iraq war than on some of these other things, to the extent that the Iraq itself is unpopular with the domestic audience.

FEINSTEIN:   I’m going to apologize to Jim and ask him just to ask the question after we close.  And I wanted to just again thank Andy.  I’m reminded every time we work together how difficult it is to come up with compelling conclusions that are also related to the data.  (Laughter.)  And I think Andy is the best in town at doing that —

KOHUT:  Well, thank you.

FEINSTEIN:   — and I want to thank you, and thank all of you for coming today.

KOHUT:  And thank you to the council for the great support in this collaborative effort.

FEINSTEIN:   Thank you.







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