Americans are conflicted about the U.S. role in the world: a record 52 percent surveyed recently said "the United States should mind its own business internationally," the highest recorded response in fifty years and up from 30 percent just a decade ago. Furthermore, a record 80 percent of the public believe that the United States should address domestic problems over international ones.
That said, 56 percent of respondents rejected the idea that "the United States should go its own way in the world," indicating Americans are ready neither to abandon internationalism nor to embrace unilateralism, and two of every three support greater U.S. involvement in the global economy.
These are among the central findings of a new nationwide Pew Research Center and Council on Foreign Relations poll, America's Place in the World, conducted every four years of both the general public and opinion leaders.
"On one hand, record numbers of Americans think the United States should mind its own business internationally and focus on problems at home. On the other hand, they want the United States to play a leading role in world affairs, and they see the benefits of greater involvement in the global economy," writes CFR Senior Vice President and Director of Studies James L. Lindsay in his analysis of the results.
Both the general public and opinion leaders agree that preventing terrorist attacks and stopping nuclear proliferation are the top foreign policy issues facing the United States. With 60 percent of Americans saying that Iran is "not serious" about addressing its nuclear program, the findings point to potential difficulty for President Barack Obama should he need to secure congressional support for a deal on Iran's nuclear capabilities, say Lindsay and Rachael Kauss, a research associate on U.S. foreign policy, who interpreted the results on behalf of CFR. They also suggest that Americans' conflicting isolationist and internationalist sentiments could affect the 2016 presidential election.
The survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center in consultation with the Council on Foreign Relations from the end of October to early November 2013, is based on the opinions of over two thousand members of the general public and over fifteen hundred opinion leaders. Respondents assessed the emphasis and effectiveness of the U.S. handling of issues such as economics, trade, defense, democratization, development, immigration, and global warming, as well as critical relationships and alliances.
Read more and see the poll results at America's Place in the World 2013.