Panelists discuss global public opinion of the United States and the direction of U.S. economic and foreign policies under President Donald J. Trump's administration.
MABRY: Hello, everyone. (Laughter.) Welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting, “Global Views of the United States.” I am Marcus Mabry, senior director of mobile news programming at CNN and a former Edward R. Murrow press fellow here at the Council, and I will be presiding over today’s discussion.
I am extremely excited to have with me here immediately to my right Daniel Drezner, who is a former CFR fellow as well, who is currently a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He’s also a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings Institution and a writer for The Washington Post on occasion. He has five books. The latest is The System—six. Six books. (Laughter.) It’s all about your sources. (Laughter.) His last one is The System Worked: How the World Stopped Another Great Depression. We may talk about that—(laughter)—and will it stop the next Great Depression.
To my far right and to your left is Rana Foroohar, who is a global business columnist and an associate editor at the Financial Times. She is also CNN’s global economic analyst. And prior to that, Rana spent six years at Time magazine as an assistant managing editor and economics columnist, and before that thirteen years at Newsweek as an economic and foreign affairs editor and foreign correspondent. I just point out thirteen years at Newsweek because I spent nineteen years at Newsweek—(laughter)—much at the same time.
Bruce Stokes, who’s right in the middle, is the director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center, where he assesses public views about economic conditions, foreign policy, and values. He is also a nonresident fellow at the German Marshall Fund and an associate fellow at Chatham House—based in London, of course, Chatham House is—and a former senior fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations.
To get our discussion started off, because our discussion centers around a Pew study and survey, we’re going to start with Bruce to kind of summarize it for us.
STOKES: Marcus, thanks. And I’ll try not to belabor this too much with the numbers because you all have a sample of some of the numbers, and all of the material that you have in front of you but also all of the material that I’ll talk about is available at our website. It’s free, but most importantly it’s searchable.
And these views of the U.S. and confidence in the U.S. president, views of the U.S. soft power, and things of that nature, the data goes back to 2002 and we’ve asked these questions every year—most of the questions every year—so you can begin to see trendlines. And you’ll notice from those trendlines that perceptions of the U.S. and perceptions of the U.S. president are quite volatile. As a senior German official said to me when I showed him one of these trendlines recently, he said, oh, it took George Bush eight years to get to this low point; it took Donald Trump two months. (Laughter.) But in the middle you had this huge jump up in confidence in the U.S. president under Barack Obama, and it stayed roughly very high for his tenure. So these things are very volatile. They are quite low today, but they in the past have gone up and down.
I think what’s interesting in this year’s survey is that after a dramatic decline in favorability of the U.S. and an even more precipitous decline in confidence in the U.S. president in the first year of the Trump administration, things haven’t changed that much in year two. For example, in Sweden last year, there was an eighty-three percentage point drop in confidence in the U.S. president from 2016 to 2017. It can’t fall much further than that. (Laughter.) And it didn’t. You know, it kind of is roughly where it is now.
And there’s actually been some—a little bit of bounce back in a few countries. The favorability of the U.S. is up ten points in Japan, for example. Confidence in the U.S. president is up twenty-two points in South Korea. You can draw your own conclusions about why, but the president has been addressing one of the issues that we know both the Japanese and the—and the South Koreans are very worried about, which is North Korea.
You also get some anomalies that you can’t explain. We have a(n) eleven percentage point increase in favorability of the U.S. in Spain, from a very low point. I was just in Europe last week and asked anybody in my audiences if they were Spanish if they could explain to me why it had gone up eleven points. (Laughs.) No one proffered why. But what you do see, especially in Europe, is incredibly low confidence in the U.S. president. We’re talking on the degrees of single-digit confidence in places like Spain or France, Germany. So it is—it is very low.
What is interesting about those findings, though, is when you cross those confidence in the U.S. in Europe—confidence in the U.S. president in Europe, we can see what the supporters of populist right-wing parties in Europe think about the U.S. president. And you might presume that maybe they have more confidence in Donald Trump than the rest of the population, and they do. Nevertheless, less than half of the supporters of right-wing populist parties in Europe have confidence in the U.S. president. So AfD supporters in Germany support—have more confidence in Donald Trump than the rest of the German population, but it’s still less than half of those people. Similarly with the National Front, similar with Sweden Democrats, and so forth.
The other, I think, major takeaway from this survey is we ask a series of questions to get at the perception of U.S. soft power and U.S. influence in the world. One of the questions we’ve asked repeatedly around the world has been: Does the U.S. protect the personal liberties of its own people? And relative to China or Russia, people believe we protect the personal liberties of our own people much better than the Chinese do or the Russians do. However, in Europe—
FOROOHAR: That’s something. (Laughter.)
STOKES: Well, on one hand, only about half of the respondents globally believe we protect the personal liberties of United States citizens. And more, I think, interestingly, up until about 2013 and the NSA scandal, overwhelming percentages in Europe said, no, the U.S. protects the human rights of its own people. After the NSA scandal, things began to go downhill. Then you had Ferguson and Black Lives Matters, and it just keeps—and that was all in the Obama administration. And then things just have gotten even lower, so that in most of the countries we’ve surveyed consistently in Europe now only about a third to forty percent of the population believes the United States protects the civil liberties of its own people, which, you know, arguably is one of our—used to be one of our strengths in soft power.
We also asked people: Do you think that the U.S. takes into consideration the interests of countries like you, your country, when it makes foreign policy? You know, nobody really expects that, or most people don’t expect that. You can all poll yourself about whether you think the U.S. takes into consideration—(laughs)—but it’s a question we designed years ago to try to get at, do people perceive that we act unilaterally or more openly? What is interesting is the dramatic drop in the percentage of people in a number of countries who say that we take into consideration their views when we make our foreign policy. It’s down thirty percentage points in Germany, it’s down twenty-some percentage points in a lot of other countries since 2013. So people basically believe we are acting more unilaterally today than we did in the past; not that they—that they all believed we didn’t act unilaterally in the past, but it’s just gotten much, much worse.
And finally, the other takeaway, it seems to me, is we asked people: Do you think that the U.S. does more, or less, or about the same in terms of dealing with global problems as it used to? And, you know, the limitation is we don’t know what global problems people are thinking about when you—when you ask them that question. And, frankly, one of the dirty little secrets of public opinion research is you don’t know what the respondent was thinking when you ask them the question. You don’t know whether they’re actually responding to the words in the question or whatever.
FOROOHAR: Google’s working on that.
STOKES: Yeah, well—(laughter)—yeah.
But, frankly, you know, my perception, after working on these things for many years, is the person you ask doesn’t know what—you know, what they were thinking when they responded to the question. The best questions are emotional questions, not rational questions, not ones that were determined—that are based on knowledge, because the average people don’t lay awake nights saying, well, if somebody knocks on my door or calls me on the phone, do I think the U.S. does more or less than it did before. I mean, you know, you’re trying to make—
DREZNER: So that’s why I became a professor. OK. (Laughter.)
STOKES: Yeah. Exactly, yeah. You’re trying to—you’re trying to make dinner, you know, the kids are screaming, and somebody calls you on the phone and asks whether you—yeah, you’re just—it’s an emotional—and that’s OK, right? People vote on emotion.
STOKES: You want to know what’s—so, basically, eighty percent of the Germans say we’re doing less, for example, than we did before on global problems. And we know from last year and asking people about various signature Trump administration policies what they might potentially be thinking. People were against us getting out of the climate accord. They were against us around the world getting us out of Iran accord. They were against building a wall on the Mexican border. They were against the Muslim ban. They were against the U.S. getting out of trade agreements. So we think we have a good sense of what they meant when they thought the U.S. was doing less.
What is interesting is that when you look at some of the data in the U.S., where our domestic pollsters ask some questions about how Americans perceive some of these issues in our global survey, while the survey has shown a dramatic decline in favorability of the U.S. and an even greater decline in confidence in the U.S. president, only forty-two percent of Republicans say we’re less respected. They used to—it used to be eighty percent of Republicans who said we were less respected; now it’s forty-two percent. So Republicans basically think our guy’s in the White House, we like him, so everybody else must like him; whereas eighty-seven percent of Democrats say we’re less respected. So there is a real—internally in the U.S. a perception gap here that I think that, you know, is quite significant in terms of our own politics and whether this data resonates across the American electorate or only to certain elements of the American electorate.
And I think we’ll leave it there for—have more conversation.
MABRY: Let me ask you one follow up before we go to our other panelists, which is for those who say Republicans who support the president’s views and say, while this is terrific, why do we care what the rest of world matters, what’s your answer to how the world feels about us, how it affects our power?
STOKES: Well, Marcus, I think that’s probably better for the other two to address. But I’ll tell you, I think that is the central question.
You know, you wouldn’t be here unless you cared. (Laughs.) That’s an a priori. But the reality—and I care, you know. And we all were trained, maybe because we’re members of the Council on Foreign Relations, to care about these things. But I think we have—the intellectually honest question is, does it really matter? Maybe it doesn’t matter so much that other countries feel less good about the United States or have less confidence in the U.S. president. I could argue it both ways.
For example, we have a president who has badmouthed NATO repeatedly. We asked about attitudes towards NATO in 2015 in Europe and in the United States, and we asked about attitudes toward NATO in 2017. The intervening time is when the president badmouthed NATO. Support for NATO went up on both sides of the Atlantic. The percentage of Europeans who said we trust that the United States will come to our aid if we’re attacked by Russia went up. The percentage of Americans who said we will go to the aid of our NATO allies if they’re attacked went up. So one conclusion might be this doesn’t really matter.
On the other hand, I was in—I was talking to European officials last week. We got into a conversation about Schroeder not being willing to go into Iraq with us in 2003, I guess it was. Well, our data showed in 2003 that the German population was really out of sorts with the United States and the U.S. president. And the German official said, yeah, that was part of the reason why we didn’t, because he’s an elected politician and he knew what his—so I think history gives us examples on either side of that argument whether it matters. And I think it’s very—but it’s a crucial question we have to debate.
MABRY: All right. Let’s keep with that same question, then, and, Rana, to follow up on that question, to add to it. So the world does not view and traditionally has not viewed the American leader and the American people the same way. There’s often a discord there. And so can we imagine that in two years or six years, when Donald Trump assumably is no longer president, that this—we’ll see a rebound?
FOROOHAR: So that’s a great question. I think it’s actually the sort of $64,000 or million-dollar or whatever it is question right now: Does this reset with a new administration? I think no. Now, I think some of the ugliness—(laughs)—resets, but the essential movement away from, say, laissez faire globalization, you know, the last four decades as we’ve known them economically, yeah, I don’t think that resets.
And I’ll tell you something interesting, just a little personal story. I was recently recommended the same book by Bernie Sanders’ former tech guru and a security hawk on the far right. And it was a book called Freedom’s Forge, which is about the way in which the U.S. automotive industry played a role in the World War II surge. Now—(laughs)—what is this about? This is about a fundamental feeling on parts of the far right—or maybe not even so far; let’s say economic and security hawks way beyond the White House—and the progressive left, particularly the labor progressive left, that feel that America needs an industrial policy, that feel that globalization went too far, that there was overreach by the elites. And those trends, although I think you may see some head fakes in the next couple of years—I mean, like, for example, I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump, being Trump, figured out some way to cut a deal with China to make it look like things are not as bad as they actually are in advance of November. We’re already seeing the Chinese depreciate their currency, probably because they’re thinking about that too. But longer term the demographics and the social trends in this country, I think, will make those two what seem now extreme positions become more mainstream.
MABRY: So, I mean—so there are many reasons that one could argue that Donald Trump won the presidency. One could be exactly that, kind of in the Upper Midwest in particular people who felt dislocated by globalization and globalism felt that Trump had an answer to them. So we would expect that kind of strength to perhaps continue, and even help the president in the midterm elections or even in reelection.
FOROOHAR: Well, and let me build on that. It’s interesting. I mean, the Rust Belt—you know, in full confession, I grew up in rural Indiana. My dad ran a manufacturing business. So, you know, my cognitive bias is I saw the ’80s kind of go like this, and was friends in high school with a Trump voter, et cetera.
But I would actually kind of say that that’s maybe the story that we already know. What I think is the interesting wrinkle in the story now the dovetailing of these anti-globalist feelings and anti-corporatist feelings, and that’s going to center around tech going forward. U.S.-China trade war is really a tech war. Biggest companies in the world are perceived by many people, and not just the Trump voter or the sort of far progressive left—as being in need of more regulation. How does that play out? And when you see tech-related disruption, which we know everybody—CFR knows always a net job creator, but great period of disruption while that’s going on, how does that play out in the next election?
MABRY: Excellent. OK, Dan. Some might argue—some Trump supporters might argue this is all to the good. The president gave an inauguration address where he said America is no longer going to be the world’s chump, we are not going to foot NATO’s bills anymore. And they might even argue, look, the president’s tough negotiating strategy as a businessman billionaire are working: Canada came to heel. We have a new NAFTA agreement. China may well come to heel, the second-largest economy in the world. I mean, so this is great foreign policy, and the problem really is people in this room—(laughter)—their lack of imagination.
FOROOHAR: How many of you feel like the problem? (Laughter.)
DREZNER: I think one of the problems that we have occasionally at CFR sessions is that the word “bullshit” is not used—(laughter). And so that’s my response to that.
FOROOHAR: They’re editing you out right now. (Laughter.)
DREZNER: Which is fine. I don’t care. Yeah, I want to be bleeped on this one. (Laughter.)
It’s a crap argument is my basic response. Which is to say that, you know, you can—first of all, this all matters because Donald Trump said it matters. You know, think about what Nikki Haley said yesterday when she announced that she was going to be leaving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She said look what’s happened over the last two years; now the U.S. is respected again. Well, that’s clearly wrong. You know, Bruce has the data to support that. And furthermore, it’s not just that it’s wrong, it’s that not only do global publics not buy this, the American public doesn’t buy this. The same time that the Pew poll was released, there was a Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll that was also released on U.S. attitudes about the rest of the world. And when Americans were asked do you think we’re respected more or less now, they overwhelmingly answered less. Now, a plurality of Republicans said we’re respected more, but they’re the only ones who said that. It’s not just Democrats who don’t think we have as much respect; it’s also independents, no matter how you define them.
MABRY: And we could also—just as a quick aside—we could also point out that party affiliation and identification is at historically low terms, and so—
MABRY: —what a Republican is is a lower percentage of the population than it used to be.
DREZNER: Right. And what’s striking to me is that in terms of the polling data, if you look at independents, independents respond now almost entirely like Democrats on these questions, whereas they did not before 2016. So it’s not—Trump might have persuaded the Republican base. Bully for him. That’s all he’s got at this point on that point—on that question.
And then, on the larger issue, I think—I think one of the arguments that the Trump people might make, you know, is sort of a variation on Machiavelli, which is to say, OK, all these polls show is that they don’t like the United States anymore. But as Machiavelli very famously said, it’s better to be feared than to be loved. You know, and surely now America is feared. Except, we’re not feared. We’re not even remotely feared at this point. You know, if you ask—you know, if you ask the rest of the world, who’s the stronger economic power? A lot of people will still answer the United States, but it’s shifting in China’s direction. And, you know, there’s a variety of ways in which the United States is no longer seen as sort of the responsible power, the responsible stakeholder in the world. And I really wish everyone who, you know, quoted that dictum had read literally just two sentences later—(laughter)—where Machiavelli said in addition to—you know, it’s better to be feared than to be loved, he also said: But what you really want to avoid is being hated.
And this is the danger that I am concerned about going forward. Now, that said, you know, to pivot a little bit away from that rant, there is, I think, some wellspring of good news in terms of the poll that Bruce has, because it shows that, remarkably, you know, despite what the Trump administration has done, despite the fact that he got elected, despite, you know, the public—global public revulsion of this, it is remarkable how still an awful lot of people in the world want the United States to be the more responsible power. They want the United States to continue to exercise leadership in a way that they don’t necessarily, you know, want to China or Russia to do. So those same people probably trust Xi or Putin more than they trust Trump, but they actually want a—you know, essentially they want a United States not under Trump to continue to do what it was doing before.
FOROOHAR: Can I—can I—I’d like to ask Bruce a question, if I may, on that note. I wonder if those favorable opinions in Japan and South Korea, as well as having to do with North Korea, have to do with what—that point about the U.S. being a power vacuum, and who’s going to be in Asia.
STOKES: Right. We don’t know. But we do know that when we’ve asked the South Koreans or the Chinese—I mean, the Japanese or the South Koreans about China, they’re worried about China. And even though they may say China’s the world’s biggest economic power now in some cases, they still would prefer to have U.S. leadership as opposed to Chinese leadership. And of course, they have their own territorial problems with China. And especially the Japanese are—the Koreans are—you know, they’re caught. They are deeply involved in the Chinese economy, and yet it makes them worried.
But you’re right. I mean, I think that it’s not just about, you know, Trump’s trying to solve the North Korea problem. But we need the United States. And when we’ve asked the South Koreans and the Japanese, do you expect the U.S. would come to your aid in a war against China, they say yes. And in a war against North Korea. So there’s that expectation we would do that. And, frankly, our public says we would go to their aid, so—
FOROOHAR: And what do the ASEAN nations say?
STOKES: The concern about China fades the further you get away from China.
STOKES: We don’t do in this particular survey that many ASEAN nations. We’ve done more in the past. So I don’t have immediately up-to-date information on that. But one point I want to get back to on Marcus’ point, which is fascinating, in a domestic poll we just did—to respond to the point about Donald Trump saying people take advantage of us—eighty percent of Republicans say that other countries take advantage of the United States. Only twenty-eight percent of Democrats say other countries take advantage of the United States. So this kind of rhetoric resonates with—this victimization rhetoric resonates with people.
FOROOHAR: That’s interesting.
STOKES: A friend of mine who debriefed Angela Merkel after her first visit with Trump back in 2017, she supposedly said: Can you believe it? He thinks the United States is a victim. And I think that that’s an important insight—assuming that anecdote’s true—about how Republicans and the—and maybe even the president thinks about the U.S. role in the world going forward. That we have been the suckers.
MABRY: Dan, I don’t think you talked about it, but what’s the danger? Even though—let’s go far to the extreme. What’s the danger of being hated? What’s—how does it impact us?
DREZNER: Well, I think there’s a few areas. The first is, is that, you know, despite—no matter what Donald Trump says, there are certain areas in foreign policy where you need allies and partners. And our allies and partners tend to be democracies. And, you know, it makes it that much harder for a leader to actually decide to cooperate with the Trump administration if they’re worried about a population that is just implacably opposed to the Trump administration. So, you know, the fact that Justin Trudeau is getting some degree of blowback from the face that he actually signed the new NAFTA agreement, even though by and large, you can argue, the Canadians negotiated about as well as you could have—you could have hoped. The fact is, any sort of domestic—or, democratically elected leader in an allied country—you know, outside of Israel—has to worry about whether or not if they cooperate with Trump, are they going to face negative blowback? So that’s problem one.
Problem two is just sort of—the way to think about—there’s legitimate debates to be had over whether soft power is really a think. It’s worth asking whether, you know, Joe Nye, who coined the idea of soft power, which is whether you can get other countries to want what we want—it is safe to say that Trump can’t do that. He has no soft power whatsoever. The question is, does that matter? In some ways, the fundamental question is, does that matter? Do you think the only thing that matters is hard power? Or do you think of soft power in some ways as the kind of—you know, to continue the industrial metaphor—is it the oil the greases the engine? Is it the thing that allows you to, you know, economize on things like hard power actually exercise influence elsewhere?
I tend to fall into the latter camp. In some ways, Trump and, you know, his foreign policy principles that I’ve talked to, they’ve all clearly made the bet that what—the only thing that matters is hard power. Which is why you see the United States, you know, threatening to coerce or sanction not just countries like Russia and China, but also allies, like Canada or Mexico or NATO.
MABRY: One of the interesting findings in this study is that in Russia, in particular, the positive view of Trump, which was fifty-three percent last year, has dropped to nineteen percent this year. To what do you accord that? And is that a positive sign?
DREZNER: I mean, that’s dashed illusions. You know, to be fair, you know, Trump—one of the few things that Trump was consistent on during the 2016 campaign was the notion that we can build a better relationship with Russia. Except it turns out, as Trump has figured out, that he’s not actually king. You can’t just pivot foreign policy. And it’s one of the areas where clearly he’s been hamstrung by Congress. And I think in some ways the—what you’ve seen in the response from Russia is the recognition that, you know, for all we were hoping for in terms of Trump building a more constructive relationship, and even for the occasional moments where he offered hosannas to Russia—like at the Helsinki summit—the fundamental fact is the sanctions haven’t been lifted. If anything, the sanctions have been strengthened. NATO, in terms of the actual concrete cooperation, has actually been strengthened. And so actually not that much has changed. And certainly nothing has changed in a way that is beneficial to Russia.
FOROOHAR: I would actually add, though, if I might, that I think that there’s something else going on, what Ian Bremmer would call the G-Zero world here. And this is interesting in light of what you found about populists in Europe being a little less inclined to like Trump. Well, you know what? In a more nationalistic world, that’s a smart, you know, emotional sentiment. It’s an all of the all sort of thing.
STOKES: Well, it’s not that they are less—they are actually more supportive of Trump than everybody else. But it’s less than fifty percent.
FOROOHAR: But less than—right.
STOKES: Which maybe one might have assumed that they would have—they would have—
FOROOHAR: Than what you would think. Yeah. Yeah.
STOKES: One interesting point in the data is that support for the U.S. and confidence in the U.S. president has gone up in Israel. And, again, so—again, you don’t know why. But—
FOROOHAR: You can sort of guess. (Laughter.)
STOKES: He moved the embassy to Jerusalem.
DREZNER: We know why. I’m pretty sure we actually know why. (Laughter.)
FOROOHAR: Yeah. Yeah, I think we do.
STOKES: Yeah. And so there are—there are examples there. And things are horrible with the Mexican population in terms of their view of the United States. Six percent of Mexicans have confidence in the U.S. president. That was five percent last year, so it’s statistically insignificant. But it’s the same thing Gallup has found, that—historic lows in Mexico in terms of both views of the United States and views of the U.S. president.
MABRY: This is our last question amongst this group before we go to all of the members here. But if you look at this graph.
STOKES: Yeah, my favorite slide.
MABRY: This is confidence among key U.S. allies. So, the U.K., Germany, France, and Spain. And there’s this—you know, which Bruce alluded to—this massive confidence up here is the Obama administration. So this is pre-Obama, post-Obama, and this is Obama. Is there an Obama effect? And that might even—that might surprise some people in this room, who for eight years said Obama had terrible foreign policy, if you could even call it a foreign policy?
STOKES: Well, we call that the hat graph. (Laughter.) But actually, if any of you have read The Little Prince as a child, or read it to your children or grandchildren, it’s actually the boa constrictor that swallowed an elephant. But that is the graphic that the German official reacted to. And what’s interesting about that—I mean, one, I think we need to take away, things are very—can be very volatile. But in 2009, when things had jumped up under Obama, we asked people in Europe in that survey: What do you expect of this new guy who is going to be—is going to become the U.S. president? And they said: He’s going to end climate change—end climate change. He is going to bring peace to the Middle East. He’s going to solve the world’s economic problems. So I think we have to acknowledge that some of that is a reflection of unrealistic expectations, and maybe—
MABRY: But it endured over three years. (Laughs.)
STOKES: But it endured, exactly, because in 2007—no, 2005, after had been reelected—so, when I was it—2012, after he had been reelected, 2013 after he had been reelected—we said, well, what do you think of this guy? Has he lived up to your expectations? They said no. (Laughs.) But you don’t really see much of a change in confidence in the U.S. president. So at least in Europe in particular, there was this love affair with Barack Obama, that really, you know, waned a little bit, not horribly, bounced—in his last year, he actually bounced back in most countries. And then if fell off the cliff.
DREZNER: I would say—and this goes back to something that Rana said. And in some ways, this is the really—this is the big $64,000 question, which is: Did the bump back occur under Obama because it was Obama, or because it was not Bush? And so the question’s going to be, is the next president after Trump—you know, if he’s—you know, he or she is not going to be Obama. The question is, is he not-Trump enough to see that kind of recovery? Or, in fact, was it unique to Obama, for a variety of reasons, actually appealing to those allies? And we don’t—the truth is, we’re not going to know that until we know who actually becomes the next president.
FOROOHAR: And I would—I think—I totally agree with that. And I would actually say that it’s going to depend on both economic and social factors. And to the extent that you get a Democrat that might be more of a kind of labor, industrial policy Democrat, that you might see more of a moderate bounce back than you would have. I think you’ll see, you know, people being glad that no one’s yelling at them, but—(laughs)—
MABRY: Economic policy’s not totally unlike Trump, you’re saying?
FOROOHAR: Yeah, right.
DREZNER: The one area where I’d push back on this—and, again, this is what’s fascinating to me—is that—you know, there’s no denying there’s sort of on the margins, you know, groups on both sides like this industrial policy stuff. But, again, this comes from the Chicago Council polling. Donald Trump has made liberal internationalism great again in this country. (Laughter.) What you actually see is an overwhelming majority of Democrats embrace the idea of free trade. Now, this might be—this is one of these public opinion things where it’s like, what does it mean? And is it just a partisanship thing? And that’s, again, another big, interesting question. But what is striking to me is the fact that, you know, you actually had a labor leader bashing Trump about the way he was handling NAFTA. I mean, that’s the first time I can remember a labor leader criticizing a protectionist move in quite some time.
FOROOHAR: True enough, but first you have to—you have to give that age data on voting now. The Millennial age—which this is—this is the slow-burn trend.
STOKES: Two things. But one is, I’ve had conversations with the former chief international economist of the AFL-CIO and the former chief international economist of the UAW. And both of them said, independently, to me, recently: You know, he’s doing all sorts of things that I long wanted done, and it really scares me—(laughs)—because they both said—
FOROOHAR: I hear the same thing all the time.
STOKES: There’s no—there’s no strategy, OK? There’s a perception of no strategy. I mean, that’s their opinion, but, you know, that’s what they say. And you’re right, it is things that they—
FOROOHAR: And, by the way, the strategy is—I think it’s emerging. Now, I’m not saying it’s the right strategy. I’m not saying it’s a hundred percent a 360-degree strategy, a coherent strategy. It is emerging. And it’s a work in progress. And all those groups, those labor leaders, those security guys, people in the defense supply chain, these people are all talking. This is a work in progress.
STOKES: Yeah. Well, and to go to your last point, and it’s about—you know, and this is really domestic politics—but, you know, obviously CNN came out with a poll yesterday, biggest difference in whether you want a Republican or a Democrat to run for Congress. And after this coming election, thirteen percentage points, you know, a huge preference gap. And a lot of enthusiasm, both on the Republican side and the Democratic side. But we just did a little study a couple months ago that, to my mind, was one of the most interesting pieces of data as we think about what’s going to happen in November, is that we looked at the turnout rate for young people in the first three midterm elections that they could vote in by generation.
So we looked at the first three midterm elections that my generation, the Baby Boomers, could vote in, in the ’70s. Then we looked at the—what—the first three elections that Millennials could vote in. And what we found was that Millennials today in the three midterm elections that they’ve had the chance to vote in, vote at a lower rate than even the Baby Boomer young people did in their day. So it’s not just that young people vote at a lower rate, but that young people today vote at a lower rate than young people in previous generations—be it Generation X or the Baby Boomer generation. And that does raise questions about why.
MABRY: So does it fall from Baby Boomer, to Gen X, to Millennials? Does it fall over time?
STOKES: Yes. Yeah, and it also says, you know, you could get an uptick in Millennial turnout in this election, but that may mean it only returns to the level that Baby Boomers voted in, which was still only 40 percent. So—
FOROOHAR: Well, demographics are destiny, but they take longer than you think, is the message.
STOKES: Yes. That’s a great insight.
MABRY: Well, Gen Z will start to come online very soon. And it’s a generation that is markedly different from those previous ones. It’ll be interesting to see.
STOKES: Yeah. Yeah, that’ll be very interesting.
MABRY: With that, at this time I would like to invite members to join our conversation with their questions. A reminder, this meeting is on the record. And wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. Please stand, then state your name and affiliation, and please limit yourself to one question, keep it concise to allow as many members as possible to speak.
OK, let’s start right here in the front, please.
Q: Lucy Komisar. I’m a journalist.
Did your polling of Americans and people abroad indicate how they feel about the U.S. ramping up its hostility to Russia?
STOKES: The short answer is no, sorry.
MABRY: Let’s go right behind—right behind Lucy.
Q: My name is Joe Kerry (sp).
My question is to Dan. Even though you are on the wrong side of the baseball argument here, being a Red Sox fan—
DREZNER: I believe you mean the winning side. I’m sorry? (Laughter.)
Q: I mean on the Yankee side.
DREZNER: There was recently a baseball game.
FOROOHAR: They crossed a picket line, that’s what happened.
Q: There you go.
DREZNER: Bring it on. (Laughter.)
Q: Braggadocio, but you deserve it.
My question is, what role should the U.S. Congress play, if any, in terms of changing the perceptions of things?
DREZNER: So that’s a great question. And it actually belies—so I will praise a CFR product. I believe Jim Goldgeier and Elizabeth Saunders have a fantastic essay in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs talking about the fact that one of the things that’s happened—Trump didn’t start this. He inherited this. But essentially one of the slow-motions processes in foreign policy that’s been increasingly disturbing is the fact that Congress has essentially abdicated most of its foreign policy responsibilities. Even if you’re talking about trade policy, where they’ve delegated, you know, countless responsibilities to the president, and also in terms of national security where they don’t want to ask, you know, painful and awkward questions.
The one exception to this is sanctions. Congress still loves sanctions. They’re nuts about them, because it’s some ways the perfect tool for Congress, because they can say they did something without it—you know, thinking it really matters. So I think one of the interesting questions is going to be if the Democrats take the House, are you going to see a coordinated plan to exercise greater authority in terms of foreign policy? And I think there’s a couple of ways they can do this. The most obvious one—and this doesn’t just deal with corruption but more generally—is oversight. Which is, you actually have to bring officials—you know, executive branch officials—you know, having hearings, find out exactly what they’re doing. And also, find out some of the more unsavory aspects, perhaps, of foreign policy. I want to know, for example, exactly what the intelligence community knew and did not know about, let’s say, Mr. Khashoggi, the gentleman who disappeared, I believe, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The second possibility is whether—and this is—this is a more mixed effect, and this is going to be potentially problematic over time, is whether you’re going to see Congress starting to pass things that essentially tie the hands of the executive branch to do certain things on policy. You’re already seeing that to some extent in terms of the sanctions being passed, because it used to be that most sanctions legislation that would be passed would have something like a national interest waiver, which would allow the president to essentially, you know, say, OK, we’re not going to apply it in this case because of exigent circumstances. With the—with the complete lack of trust between Democrats and Trump, it is highly unlikely that any kind of legislation will be passed that would have that kind of national interest waiver.
But that being said, it should also be pointed out, it’s not obvious to me that Congress is going to do all that much, because for that to happen you would actually have to have the Democrats control both branches—or, both houses. And the odds look less and less likely that that’s going to be the case. So it’s really, in some ways, if the Democrats control the House, what can you do with one branch of Congress to potentially try to constrain the president? And really, the answers are oversight and potentially the power of the purse.
MABRY: Yes. Right here.
Q: Marshall Bouton, Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
I wanted to return to the recent question. I’d like to hear a little more discussion generally about that. But I wondered if you might connect it to the also brief discussion you had about victimization. Sort of, where did that come from? I mean, we’re talking about a lot of people in the elites in the United States who clearly felt “victimized,” in quotes. Is that going to persist? Is that part of our national landscape for the future? And what does it mean about the possible of a reset?
MABRY: Good question. Rana, do you want to—
FOROOHAR: Should I—should I? Well, there’s—so there’s two parts of this that I find fascinating. And I’ll just look at the first. The idea that—it’s mostly conservatives, right, who feel victimized? It was 80 percent? The idea that they feel victimized economically, and yet on the social side, you know, are fighting this idea of victim—that’s sort of fascinating, and definitely column fodder at some point. But on the economic side, there was a really interesting UNTAD study. The U.N. development and trade group came out with a study recently. And it was somewhat contested in terms of how they looked at the numbers, but basically what they found was between 2000 and 2014, the biggest winners, the most consistent winners from globalization were big companies and China. And China won, in the view of the authors of this report, essentially because it broke the rules of WTO, of globalization as we know it. And that that was the smart move.
And I think that that’s really interesting, because I’ve heard from business leaders—you know, I’ve been covering business and global affairs for thirty years. I can’t remember a time when CEOs weren’t talking about having problems with China. But the idea was always that the market is worth the risk. You sacrifice. You go in. And I think now that there is this existential crisis going on in the C-suite that I see. And it’s fascinating to watch it happen. Where the political rules have changed now. And I think that Lighthizer and Navarro are after not just China, but after big, multinational corporations. And if you look at it in that lens, and the idea that they view the decoupling of U.S. and China as a strategic economic imperative, they want to punish not just the Chinese, I think, but the companies that are, in their view, having sold out—in some, you know, anti-patriotic way—sold out U.S. interests and gone abroad.
And I think that that—what happens now—and I think the next twelve months are going to be super fascinating, because I hear is every single CEO is rethinking their—rethinking their supply train. Not pulling the trigger yet, but farther along than they would have been two years ago when I asked them the same question. Starting to think about what it would mean to move to Vietnam. Those are slow-moving decisions. They take a couple years, you know, to implement. But once you do it, you don’t pull that back right away.
Now, on the Chinese side what I hear, and I did actually an interesting interview—moderated a panel with Kai-Fu Lee, who has a new book on AI, very interesting book. And he said basically that the new invest—the CFIUS, the investment rules restrictions have basically made it impossible for him to do new investment into the U.S. He’s a leading Chinese venture capitalist. And he’s saying: I’m now assuming I will not be doing any more deals in the U.S. I think of the China market as the U.S. domestic market post World War II. It’s big enough. We’re going to have a certain orbit. We’re going to bring along some of the ASEAN nations, maybe some of the Middle East nations in this new kind of digital ecosystem. And that’s fine. That’s enough for me.
MABRY: What about that victimization question, that sense of is this a natural part of the American political landscape going forward?
STOKES: Well, I think—you know, this is a reflection of a Gallup poll and it relates to trade and victimization, but Gallup has periodically, since 1993, been asking people if various countries are a fair or unfair trader. And not surprisingly, in 1993, a majority of Americans said Japan was an unfair trader. Now people—less than half say Japan is unfair, and China has come out of nowhere to be considered—two-thirds of Americans say that China is an unfair trader. Interestingly enough, in 1993, Gallup didn’t even think it was worthwhile asking about China. They were—they were—yeah.
FOROOHAR: I love it. Yeah, totally different.
STOKES: But the more interesting thing, it seems to me, is that eighty-one percent of Republicans in 1993 said Canada was a fair trader. Now, only forty-nine percent of Republicans say Canada is a fair trader. We had the same problems with Canada in 1993, as far as I know, having covered trade for twenty-five years, as we do today. It’s lumber. It’s salmon. It’s milk. And what’s changed? Well, we have a Republican president who has repeatedly called Canada an unfair trader, whereas the percentage of Democrats who say Canada is a fair trader has gone up. Now, have they become more fair than they were before? Or is it because Trump calls them unfair, I believe they are fair? So you go—you see that with relations with the EU as well. And you see it in Japan. So I do think that we can’t dismiss the fact that we have a president who trumpets this victimization as galvanizing some views about victimization in the body politic.
MABRY: Dan, you wanted to comment?
DREZNER: I think you have to look beyond trade on this. I don’t think—you know, every—political scientists have been asking since 2016 what drove the outcome, both in terms of Brexit, in terms of the 2016 election—was it about economic grievances or was it about identity issues, and, basically, nine out of the ten studies you see it’s all about identity. You know, there’s no denying, you know, that economic concerns played a role. But in some ways, I think the trade was not actually the big issue here. I think it’s about immigration. I think—you know, the question of grievance is about—
FOROOHAR: Totally agree.
DREZNER: —essentially, that, you know, there’s a large fraction of the country that now looks at the future of the country and it doesn’t look like how they remember it growing up, which, by the way, was not actually how it was growing up. But, nonetheless, you know, we all look backward with rose-colored glasses. So you’re never going to beat that nostalgic view of how it used to be.
It’s always fascinating to me—I am genuinely fascinated when both liberals and, you know, conservatives like to talk about the halcyon days of the 1950s, you know, when you could get a manufacturing job, you know, and that was—that was enough to earn a good, you know, middle-class wage. And it was, like, yes, that was true if you were a white guy. You know, there was a whole variety of ways in which it was not really that good for an awful large swathe of the population back then.
FOROOHAR: But, you know, I agree with your point about trade when looked at linearly. But when you add in technological disruption, which we know is really the thing, it’s about economics, I think, way more than it is. I think that the social—
STOKES: Oh, no.
FOROOHAR: —trails the economics.
STOKES: No. I disagree.
MABRY: It’s interesting. I completely agree African-American voters and, you know, who was economically disadvantaged and who voted for whom in 2016, that kind of, you know, blows that argument.
FOROOHAR: Well, it’s very hard to tease—I mean, causality is hard here, right? It’s really hard.
MABRY: Sure. Sure.
DREZNER: And they both played a role. But no, I would be on the other side of that, though.
STOKES: But I—but I—I guess—
MABRY: Wait, wait, wait. Just to get more members in. You guys—(inaudible). To get more members in I’m going to go over here, though. Yes. Go ahead.
Q: Herbert Levin, Council member.
I wanted to ask Mr. Stokes, these questions which you have asked are, obviously, of great interest to us. But I seem to recall a poll where people were asked what’s most important to them, and none of these were very important to them. So that—
STOKES: Americans, you mean.
Q: Americans, yeah.
Q: They were concerned about other things. And so what we’re getting is what you’ve described; call up and say, do you think that the discount rate is fair, you know, with babies crying, we’re cooking. (Laughter.) Yeah, I think it’s very fair, Fed’s doing a good job.
STOKES; Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. (Laughter.)
Q: So I would like you to give us a little bit of—I’d like you to give us a little bit of a context because, pardon me, I don’t think this is very important. I think people are worrying about other things and that they give rather superficial answers, and then Fletcher can knock me out but I think, really, these questions are decided by a very small number of competent or incompetent elites who handle it among themselves for a variety of reasons. So I don't think this is very important, what we’re talking about.
STOKES: Well—(laughter)—I mean, to give you—to support your point, when we ask people every year—and we just asked them this last month—this month—about what they thought were the most important issues facing the nation, and in January we would ask every year what’s the most important issues—problems facing the nation and then this month we’ve asked what’s the most important issues that may determine how you vote in a month. A, we don’t ever ask, you know, how worried are you about the fact that people don’t like us. (Laughter.)
I mean, clearly, we intuitively agree with you in the sense that we ask about the health care and the environment maybe or maybe the economy or whatever. But we do ask, for example, about an international issue—trade. Fifty-two percent of Americans this month said that trade would be a very important issue in helping determine their election. There were twelve issues that were more important. (Laughter.)
Every year when we ask people in January what are the most important issues facing the nation, we give them, like, twenty-four different options. Every year for two decades trade has either been the least important or sometimes global climate change is the least important. So it is true, I think, that many of these issues are not anywhere near the top of people’s consciousness in the United—remember, we are a continental economy. We are inward looking by our history. We are—we trade less of our economy than most other advanced industrial economies. So there’s all sorts of reasons, it seems to me, why the public doesn’t place much of a priority on how we’re seen around the world.
MABRY: Dan, you want to quickly—then we’ll come here and then we’ll come here. OK.
DREZNER: I just want to say, so just quickly, you know, the Chicago Council also asked this question, like, what’s the most important priority, you know, at least in terms of international affairs, and the number-one answer almost all the time is protecting American jobs. That’s almost always the number-one. There was one exception to that and that was in 2008, and in 2008 the number-one answer by far was restore America’s standing in the world.
So I would argue—
STOKES: That’s fascinating.
DREZNER: —that this is going to be an interesting thing come 2020. One of the things I will be curious about is whether you see it emerge again, yeah.
MABRY: Do I have questions? Yes, right here.
Q: Jeff Laurenti.
First, thank you for having put a word, “victimization,” on a certain attitude, because I was puzzled when Nikki Haley yesterday said that every morning she has to suit up in her body armor to go to U.N. meetings—(laughter)—and Samantha Power never had to put on body armor or Susan Rice didn’t. (Laughter.)
In any event, I wish that you would disentangle for us a bit more the foreign—the economic trade nexus from the peace, security, political ones in terms of foreigners’ perceptions of the United States, because you look at both Bush and at Trump and the U.S. at rock-bottom lows in terms of confidence, and Bush had a very pro-international trade globalization view. Trump’s been very hostile to it.
Perhaps that is not in any way part of what foreigners are looking at, but it’s, rather, rejection of climate change, rejection of nuclear accords, the rejection of U.N. rules on use of force, rejection on Jerusalem or whatever, and that brings to the question that, you know, Dan had underscored—that by 2008 even Republicans were aware, for all of their rallying around Bush, that there was something wrong in the U.S. image again.
How long does it take before our international partners find they can invite Trump to visit without writing their own funeral epitaph at the next election and that Americans realize that, whoa, this has really alienated us from the rest of the world?
MABRY: Who wants to take it? Rana or Bruce?
STOKES: Well, go ahead, Dan.
DREZNER: I’ll just add one quick thing because you guys know more. But the one thing I’ll say is that if you recall, during the Bush years there was a gap in the first term, asking attitudes about the president versus attitudes about Americans. Most of the rest of the world were very hostile to Bush, like most Americans.
STOKES: Absolutely. Yeah.
DREZNER: Then Bush got reelected, and then suddenly the attitude towards Americans, you know, began to—it took, I think, like, a ten-point drop or something.
STOKES: But we asked—when he got reelected we asked people, do you feel better or worse about the American people now that they reelected Bush and actually they felt worse. (Laughter.)
DREZNER: Right. And so, in some ways, this goes to 2020. But I’ll leave it at that.
STOKES: Yeah. Yeah. I know. No, I—look, we don’t ask foreigners about specific international policies of the United States every year. We did last year, about some signature Trump policies and, as I say, generally, they were—rejected, all of them, right. So you can intuit part of their decline in confidence in the U.S. president or decline in favorability of the U.S. is related to that, I think.
FOROOHAR: I just want to add one thing. I would say that it’s impossible to detangle security and economics. I mean, when I look at Europe’s reaction to, say, Iran, you know, how much of it is the U.S. is pulling out of yet another global agreement and how much of it is the price of oil, you know. I mean, let’s be real. Sorry to all Europeans, and I work for a British publication. But, really—(laughter.)
Q: Thank you. Brian O’Neill.
I’m struck by this page ten that you highlighted earlier that’s—
MABRY: That’s the Obama effect.
Q: —kind of the pig working its way through the python or whatever—
STOKES: Yeah. (Laughter.)
Q: —however you described it. But if you accept that in the—in the immediate term, anyway, that Europe’s two biggest challenges are political and financial stability of Italy and the immigrant crisis, whether Syrian or sub-Saharans coming up through what used to be Libya, who do they think wrought that problem?
STOKES: Who wrought—
Q: And is this maybe an expression that our country, our administration, isn’t part of the solution for them of that or, I mean—
STOKES: I just—I just don't know. Bu you do mention Italy. I can tell you, if you look at our Italian polling, which we’ve been doing for ten years, the Greek polling is what you might expect. The Greeks are—have been in a bad mood for years. (Laughter.) But what’s interesting—for understandable reasons, maybe—but it’s the decline in public opinion on a whole range of issues in Italy that I always tell a European audience, you know, you got to pay attention to this. I mean, Greece is on the periphery of Europe.
Italy is the fourth or fifth largest economy in Europe and a huge population, and as European friends of mine say in Brussels, you know, it’s too big to fail and too big to save. And you get, you know, this decline, and now you have a government that is, you know, both—kind of populist on both extremes. Yeah. Yeah.
FOROOHAR: Very—I mean, that's the bellwether in so many ways what’s happening in Italy, I think.
STOKES: Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, I just think that we all who worry about international affairs need to pay more attention to Italy simply because our data over time just shows things—attitudes on a whole range of issues are going from bad to worse.
FOROOHAR: Also, what happens in Italy matters for the solvency of the EU, and the solvency of the EU—I mean, if the most benevolent, you know, experiment in globalization fails, not great.
STOKES: And they have an election next year and, you know, the turnout in European parliamentary elections is usually about 30—maybe no more than 40 percent, and the right wing populist parties are trying to put together a ticket to run a more aggressive campaign, and I can tell you, talking to European ambassadors, that’s what they’re really afraid of is that the European parliament will get a much larger contingent of right wing populist parties who maybe can’t accomplish very much but they can stop a lot. And so that’s an issue we need to watch.
MABRY: Next question. Next question.
STOKES: And—yes. Yeah.
MABRY: Yes, right here in the front.
Q: Hi. Elmira Bayrasli.
You mentioned multinationals and then you mentioned kind of global perceptions of how people are viewing U.S. foreign policy, and I’d love to know a little bit about Facebook and if you’ve actually asked people how much they think Facebook is influencing global issues both globally but also in the United States.
STOKES: We’ve done some technology reports but we’ve never, as far as I know, asked that question. We ask people where they—you know, we try to assess where they get their news, you know, just ask how does that affect their—well, do they trust it—how does that affect their kind of political participation.
MABRY: Do they trust their news? (Laughter.)
STOKES: Well, it’s interesting. Europeans—we just did a survey in Europe, which we’ve done in the U.S. a number of times, asking people where they got their news and how much they trust it, and what was interesting is you saw a divide in Europe that the traditional news sources were much more relied upon and trusted in northern Europe than in southern Europe, and but I don’t know that we’ve ever asked people about—specifically about how much they trust Facebook versus Twitter versus I don’t know what.
Q: It’s not about trust. It’s about how much they think Facebook is actually influencing globally.
STOKES: Oh. I’m sure we’ve never asked that, unfortunately.
FOROOHAR: But I think that’s a super-interesting question and I think it dovetails with the bigger question, which is about corporate power and oligopoly, which is a huge economic issue but also a huge political issue, I think, from a perception standpoint in the politics.
MABRY: We’re going to go here first. No one in the back? No questions?
Q: Niso Abuaf of Pace University.
I wonder if you ever asked especially Europeans whether they know where Americans are coming from. It’s not whether they like us or they dislike us, but do they understand where the American body politic is coming from.
STOKES: No, we haven’t. We have asked people all over the world but, particularly, I think the results are striking in Europe. One of the soft power questions we’ve asked people is how do you—what do you think about U.S. style democracy, and in all of the ten countries in Europe that we survey people are more likely to say they don’t like U.S. style democracy.
So, you know, one of our—one of, I think, a widely shared self-perception by many Americans is, well, you know, we have the best democracy in the world—we’re the shining city on the hill and everybody wants to be like us in terms of—now, what we don’t know, and we hope to correct this soon if we can figure out how to ask it, is what is it about U.S. style democracy that particularly Europeans don’t like.
You know, is it—they’ve seen our TV commercials—our political commercials—and they’re aghast, which I know. Europeans have told me that. Or, you know, there’s too much money in American politics or is it too divisive and partisan, or they just don’t like the outcome, you know, and if—they would feel better about it if we elected kind of French socialists or whatever. But, I mean, so we don’t know.
But I do think it’s a reminder to us that some of the perceptions we have about how the world looks at us and our—especially on our soft power, is not an assumption we should make. Now, in other parts of the world—parts of Africa, Latin America—people—that particular piece of U.S. soft power is pretty—still pretty attractive.
MABRY: So, actually, with that answer, we’re going to, unfortunately, be out of time. Please join me in thanking our panel. (Applause.)