February 10, 2020 | By Eliza Posner

Republicans, Democrats Growing Apart on Foreign Policy Approaches

When it comes to achieving US foreign policy goals, Americans embrace a wide variety of policy prescriptions. Of the eight approaches to achieving US foreign policy goals the Council asked about in our January poll, a majority of Americans rated all eight as either very or somewhat effective. However, while there is broad cross-partisan agreement on the net efficacy of many approaches, a closer look at the percentage of partisans who say these approaches are very effective reveals large and increasing polarization.

A large majority of Americans (87%) say that maintaining US military superiority is a very or somewhat effective approach to achieving US foreign policy goals. There is cross-partisan agreement on this topic—majorities of Republicans (99%), Democrats (81%) and Independents (85%) rate maintaining military superiority as effective. There has also been little historical variation on this point—in 2012, 80 percent of Americans (including 89% of Republicans and 88% of Democrats) said the approach was effective.

(click for full size)

However, this overall stability masks a notable shift among Republicans. In 2012, 50 percent of Republicans and 40 percent of Democrats said that maintaining US military superiority was a very effective means of achieving US foreign policy goals. In January 2020, 80 percent of Republicans said the approach was very effective, an increase of thirty percentage points in eight years.

(click for full size)

The same is true of drone strikes, an issue highlighted by the recent killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. While majorities of both parties say drone strikes against suspected terrorists in other countries is effective (93% of Republicans, 60% of Democrats), only 17 percent of Democrats say the approach is very effective, compared to 63 percent of Republicans. In 2015, the parties were much less polarized—large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats (73% and 76% respectively) said the approach was net effective and there was only 1 percentage point difference between the percent of Republicans and Democrats who rated the approach as very effective (26% and 25% respectively).

(click for full size)

This increasing polarization on foreign policy approaches has been primarily driven by changes in Republicans’ opinions since 2016. In January 2020, 80 percent of Republicans said maintaining US military superiority was very effective, a 19-percentage point increase from 2016. In contrast, the percent of Democrats who said this approach was very effective decreased 3 points in the same timeframe. Similarly, the percent of Republicans who rated placing sanctions on other countries as very effective increased by 20 points since 2016, while the percent of Democrats who said the approach was very effective decreased by 1 point. Given that President Trump has stressed the importance of both approaches, the increased polarization on the question of their efficacy could reflect growing partisan polarization in the country overall.

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.

Archive

| By Dina Smeltz

The Urban-Rural Divide?

Are Americans as divided along geographic lines when it comes to key foreign policy matters as their voting patterns suggest? 


| By Karl Friedhoff

Moon Jae-In's Victory Does Not Put US-Korea Alliance at Risk

With the election of Moon Jae-In to the presidency of South Korea, there are concerns that the US-Korea alliance hangs in the balance. Those fears are overblown. While there are rough waters ahead, much of that will emanate from the Trump administration's handling of cost-sharing negotiations in the near future.


| By Dina Smeltz

The Foreign Policy Blob Is Bigger Than You Think

The Blob isn't just science fiction. When it comes to US foreign policy, its reach is far and wide with wide swaths of agreement between foreign policy elite and the general public. A new report from the Council and the Texas National Security Network explains.


| By Dina Smeltz

American Views of Israel Reveal Partisan and Generational Divides

Despite partisan differences on taking a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on the status of US-Israel bilateral relations, overall trends from Chicago Council Survey data indicate that the relationship between the United States and Israel will continue to be viewed warmly by the American public.


#TBT: That Time We All Feared Chemical and Biological Weapons

In the spirit of Throw Back Thursday, Running Numbers is digging out its archived polls to look back at America’s foreign policy feelings of old. This week, we’re looking at Council data on Americans' perceptions of the threat posed by chemical and biological weapons in the late 90s and early 00s.



| By Dina Smeltz

​Polls Measure So Much More than Voting Intentions

The polling community took a lot heat following the failure of forecasters and data journalists to predict Trump's triumph in the 2016 election. But polls measure so much more than voting intentions says Council senior fellow Dina Smeltz.


| By Karl Friedhoff, Craig Kafura

Public Opinion in the US and China

There is perhaps no more important bilateral relationship in the world today than the one between the United States and China—the world’s two most important players in terms of economics and security. Where do the Chinese and American publics stand on key issues in the relationship, and what policies do they want to see their respective nations pursue worldwide? 



| By Diana C. Mutz

How Trade Attitudes Changed from 2012-2016

Trade was an important issue in the recent presidential election, but not in the way the media and many prominent observers have led us to believe.  The dominant narrative in the media was that disgruntled manufacturing workers whose jobs had been sent overseas emerged, understandably, as trade’s strong opponents, thus making Trump with his strong anti-trade rhetoric their natural ally.


Who Run the World? Foreign Policy Attitudes on Women and Girls

In partnership with the New America Foundation, the 2016 Chicago Council Survey included two questions developed to provide better insight about the importance of promoting women's rights and women's participation in societies around the world. 


This Presidential Election Was All about Identity, Not Qualities and Issues

Donald Trump just pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in American political history, capturing the presidency last Tuesday night. How did it happen? This election was all about identity politics, with Trump able to connect with non-college whites, especially white men without a college degree.



| By Dina Smeltz

The US-Russian Relationship

The 2016 Chicago Council Survey partnered with the Levada Analytical Center in Moscow to ask Americans and Russians how they feel about each other and—more importantly—each other’s government. 


| By Richard C. Eichenberg

Gender Difference in Foreign Policy Opinions: Implications for 2016

There are three patterns in American politics that take on special significance in 2016: the gender divide in Presidential elections; the low support for Donald Trump among women; and the growing discussion in the foreign policy community about the inclusion of women in the policy process. Nonresident fellow Richard Eichenberg explores the extent of gender difference in the 2016 Chicago Council Survey data and assesses the relevance of any differences to this year’s presidential election.