Poll Positions

SURVEYING THE LAND

Americans are at least as polarized on issues of foreign affairs as they are on domestic politics. They seem to have left behind, at least for the time being, the unity over foreign policy that characterized the World War II era and much of the Cold War period. As might be expected, Americans today are split most sharply along partisan lines on many (though not all) aspects of U.S. foreign policy, and especially on the Bush administration's conduct of the war on terrorism and the reconstruction of Iraq. More surprising, perhaps, this polarization seems to track the public's religiosity: the more often Americans attend religious services, the more likely they are to be content with current U.S. foreign policy.

These are some of the conclusions drawn from a new kind of opinion poll that monitors changing levels of American public confidence in a wide range of foreign policy issues. Public Agenda, a nonprofit research organization that former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and I founded 30 years ago, is creating the new U.S. Confidence in Foreign Policy Index (CFPI), with major support from the Ford Foundation. Every six months, Public Agenda will interview a random sample of American adults to follow shifts in the public's comfort level with U.S. foreign policy -- identifying which policies bring Americans pride and which bring them shame.

The first poll, conducted by phone among a nationwide sample of 1,004 Americans between June 1 and June 13, reveals that the public's response to U.S. foreign policy is not uniform. Although Americans are sharply divided on some questions, other issues garner powerful majorities either in favor of or opposed to the government's policies. The effects of outsourcing on the U.S. job market are causing widespread concern, for example, even if they have not yet galvanized the public into demanding significant policy changes. Illegal immigration, U.S. relations with the Muslim world, and the war in Iraq are also becoming hot-button topics. American opinion is coalescing around them, concern is spreading and deepening, and the public's desire to hold the government accountable is mounting. We believe these issues are reaching a "tipping point": the moment at which large swaths of the public begin to demand that the government address their concerns. Pundits and policymakers would do well to start listening to the grumbling.

Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis