June 4, 2014 | By Dina Smeltz

Bruce Jentleson: The Prudent, Not Isolationist, Public

Get ready for some new public opinion data from the 2014 Chicago Council Survey in the coming weeks.  We will publicly release the full results in September, but will be offering previews on hot topics over the summer.

In the meantime, Bruce Jentleson of Duke University recently posted a piece on TheHill.com incorporating some preliminary numbers from our poll.  He characterizes the American public as “prudent, not isolationist.”  Here are some excerpts:

 “There's a lot of hue and cry these days about the American public turning isolationist, seeking to retreat from the world. That, though, is both a misreading of the polls and, frankly, reflects a too-readily dismissive view of what pioneering pollster Elmo Roper once called ‘the common sense of the common man.’ Two recent polls have been the main impetus for the yet-again isolationist public. An April 2014 NBC-Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Hart Research Associates poll found 47 percent saying the U.S. should be "less active in world affairs"; 19 percent, "more active," and 30 percent, "at current level." A December 2013 Pew poll found 52 percent agreeing that "the U.S. should mind its own business internationally." While both of these were much higher than prior polls, three factors make their meaning less clear-cut than claimed. One is the very different data from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA) surveys. The CCGA 2012 poll found 61 percent saying "stay active" in world affairs and only 38 percent saying to "stay out." While the smallest differential since their 1982 poll, it still is a pretty solid number. And preliminary results for their 2014 poll have 62 percent for staying active. ... The public is not seeking to retreat from the world. It is not going through a mood swing, as some scholars and commentators portray it, as if there were a societal biorhythm periodically shifting between internationalism and isolationism. It is being prudent about what commitments it will support and what role the U.S. should play. And what is unreasonable about that?”

 

I recommend reading the whole piece – it’s a solid assessment of American internationalist sentiment rooted in the data. As Bruce notes, these are preliminary results from our 2014 Chicago Council Survey, but they fit with a long trend of Americans’ support for taking an active role in the world. Given all that's happened since 1947, the stability of public support for an active role in world affairs is striking.

  

We'll be releasing new findings on attitudes toward Ukraine, Russia, Syria, climate change, energy and more over the summer. So stay tuned for the latest data on American views of the world and of US foreign policy.

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.

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