from The Water's Edge

Domestic Policy Trumping Foreign Policy in Campaign 2016

Republican U.S. presidential candidates participate in the 2016 U.S. Republican presidential debates. (Reuters/Rick Wilking)

November 3, 2015

Republican U.S. presidential candidates participate in the 2016 U.S. Republican presidential debates. (Reuters/Rick Wilking)
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The Wall Street Journal and NBC News are out with a new poll today on Campaign 2016. The headline is that Ben Carson has vaulted past Donald Trump for the lead among GOP voters. Polls done this early typically do a lousy job of predicting who will win the nomination. So make of those numbers what you will. But the poll does contain a question that gives some insight into how significant foreign policy will be in shaping voters’ choices a year from today. The answer is, not very.

The question that WSJ/NBC News asked of registered voters was: “When it comes to deciding for whom you will vote for president, which one of the following is the single most important issue in deciding for whom you will vote?” Here’s how people responded in today’s poll as well as in one done back in September 2012.

  10/25-29/15+ 9/26- 30/12+
The economy 38 46
Social issues and values 16 15
Social Security and Medicare 12 12
The Federal Deficit 9 7
Foreign policy and the Middle East 8 6
Health care 8 10
Terrorism 8 1
     None/other (VOL) 1 1
     Not sure - 1

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Domestic policy clearly trumps foreign policy. More than eight in ten registered voters in 2015 name a domestic policy issue as mattering most to them. Fewer than two in ten voters say the same about foreign policy. And the relative ranking of issues doesn’t change much even when voters’ top two choices are combined. Domestic policy issues continue to outrank foreign policy ones.

Perhaps the most surprising poll result is that the percentage of voters naming foreign policy issues is only slightly higher than it was three years ago, despite the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, Russia’s increased belligerence, and Chinese island building in the South China Sea.

Events could certainly make foreign policy a priority for voters. But for now 2016 looks to be shaping up like most presidential campaigns do, with voters far more interested in what the candidates say they will do at home than in what they promise to do abroad.

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