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A new survey of U.S. public opinion on foreign policy shows that the war in Iraq and terrorism are not the only problems on Americans' minds. Public concern over the United States' dependence on foreign oil may soon force policymakers to change course. And religious Americans are rethinking their support for many of Bush's policies, which has brought them closer in line with the rest of the public.
A new survey of public opinion on U.S. foreign policy shows that Americans are split in two along party and religious lines. Still, significant majorities are starting to come together based on discontent with the war in Iraq, U.S. standing in the Muslim world, and illegal immigration. Soon the grumbling may become too loud for policymakers to ignore.
"The mood of the American electorate radiates anxiety, mistrust, pessimism and an implacable determination to change the way things are done in Washington". This, and the end of the Cold War, are "likely to effect a major transformation of American foreign policy", in terms of shift from geopolitics towards a definition of the national economic interest and an enhancement of US industrial competitiveness. This is not simply a reaction to the recession, but a more basic lack of confidence in US economic management.
Reviews recent US public opinion poll evidence on relations with USSR and security issues, finding a cautious attitude, stressing verification and other means of testing Soviet 'good faith'. Americans believe that (1) Gorbachev seeks "to change... the very character of the Soviet Union" (2) the nuclear threat from a (hypothetical) terrorist group or Third World power is greater than that from the USSR (3) today's greatest challenges (including pollution, terrorism, over-population and trade) "are no longer East-West in nature but global".
Presidential campaigns do more than choose individuals for high office: our history shows many instances where elections have moved the country closer to a decisive resolution of long-standing issues. The 1984 presidential campaign gives the candidates a historic opportunity to build public support for reducing the risk of nuclear war. The American electorate is now psychologically prepared to take a giant step toward real arms reductions.
Between Jimmy Carter's election in 1976 and Ronald Reagan's victory in 1980, the outlook of the American people underwent one of those decisive shifts that historians generally label as watershed events. In 1976 the nation was still in the aftershock of Watergate and Vietnam--unsure of its limits as a superpower, agonizing over the moral rightness of the Vietnam War, dreading involvement in foreign commitments that in any way resembled Vietnam, preoccupied with domestic economic problems, intent on restoring the presidency to pre-Watergate levels of integrity, and dependent on détente with the Soviet Union to lighten both the defense budget and the tensions of international relations.
For many years, public attitudes toward foreign policy leadership in the United States could be summed up as "President knows best." Virtually throughout the Vietnam War, up to its very end, the public gave the President - whether Kennedy, Johnson or Nixon - the benefit of the doubt. A President, any President, was presumed to possess vital information unavailable to others, and therefore to be in the best position to judge what actions were in the nation's interest. Several years ago I calculated a pre-Watergate, 50 percent "automatic support" factor for presidential decisions in foreign policy. Analyzing a number of public opinion polls taken before and after presidential decisions in foreign policy, I calculated that the President could count on adding up to 50 percent of the electorate to his support column once he had made a decision, almost regardless of the policy initiative in question. So untroubled was public confidence in executive legitimacy in foreign affairs that people simply assumed the President must have access to knowledge and wisdom denied to ordinary citizens.