Survey: Americans Pull Away from Trump on Foreign Policy

October 2, 2018

President Trump has failed to convince Americans to embrace his vision of U.S. foreign policy, according to the 2018 Chicago Council Survey of American public opinion and U.S. foreign policy released today. According to the report, a majority of Americans prefer an active U.S. engagement with the world and a shared leadership role in world affairs. Support for free trade, existing alliances and international agreements are notably up since last year, moving in the opposite direction of President Trump's preferred policies.

“There is a growing gap between President Trump and the American public on foreign policy,” said Ambassador Ivo H. Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “In record numbers, Americans embrace free trade, security alliances, and international agreements and institutions at a time when the Trump administration is increasingly walking away from these core principles of US foreign policy.”

The 2018 survey, “America Engaged,” is the latest in a series of annual surveys of US public opinion on foreign policy. It features detailed trend-line data dating back to 1974 and partisan breakdowns on a range of issues, including international alliances, trade, war and diplomacy.

Highlights from the report are included below. For more findings, such as American views on autocrats and perceptions of China as a critical threat, please download the full report here.

More Engaged in the World

  • Despite the Trump administration’s attempts to pull the United States back from global engagement, 70 percent of Americans favor the United States continuing to take an active part in world affairs.
  • Just 29 percent prefer that the United States stay out of world affairs.
  • Support for global engagement has jumped 7 percentage points since the 2017 Chicago Council Survey and is at the highest recorded level since 1974 except for 2002, the first Council Survey conducted after the September 11 attacks.

Admiration over Fear

  • While Americans acknowledge that maintaining US military superiority around the world is a very effective foreign policy tool, a majority believe it is more important for the United States to be admired (73 percent) than feared (26 percent) to achieve US foreign policy goals.

Increased Support for Iran and Paris Agreements

  • A strong majority (68 percent) of the American public says that the United States should participate in the Paris Agreement that calls for countries to collectively reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • Two-thirds (66 percent) also support US participation in the agreement that lifts some international economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for strict limits on its nuclear program for at least the next decade.
  • Support for participating in both of these high-profile international agreements has risen 6 percentage points over the past year.

Multilateralism, not Unilateralism

  • A majority of Americans (66 percent) agree that the United States should be more willing to make decisions with its allies even if it means the United States will sometimes have to go along with a policy that is not its first choice (32 percent disagree).
  • Similarly, two thirds of Americans (64 percent) agree that the United States should be more willing to make decisions within the United Nations even if it means that the United States will sometimes have to go along with a policy that is not its first choice.

Committed to Alliances

  • A majority of Americans continue to favor maintaining (57 percent) or increasing (18 percent) the US commitment to NATO, as they have since the Council began asking this question in 1974.
  • The 18 percent of Americans who want to increase the US commitment to NATO is the highest level ever recorded in Chicago Council Surveys.
  • Only 16 percent want to decrease the US commitment, and just 6 percent want to withdraw entirely.

High on Trade

  • Record high majorities of Americans say that trade is good for consumers like you (85 percent), the US economy (82 percent) and creating jobs in the United States (67 percent).
  • Sixty-three percent of Americans now say NAFTA is good for the US economy, an all-time high and an increase of 10 percentage points from 2017, when a narrow majority (53 percent) said the same.

For full findings, graphics and methodology, view or download the full report here.

See also our previous reports from the 2018 Chicago Council Survey:


This report is based on the results of a survey commissioned by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The 2018 Chicago Council Survey, a project of the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy, is the latest effort in a series of wide-ranging surveys on American attitudes toward US foreign policy. The 2018 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the support of the Crown family, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the US-Japan Foundation, the Korea Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

The survey was conducted from July 12 to 31, 2018, among a representative national sample of 2,046 adults. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is ±2.37, including a design effect of 1.1954. The margin of error is higher for partisan subgroups or for partial-sample items.

About the Chicago Council Survey

The Chicago Council Survey, conducted every four years since 1974, biennially since 2002, and annually since 2014, is a trusted and widely cited source of longitudinal data on American public opinion about a broad range of US foreign policy and international issues. Since its inception, the survey has captured the sense of particular eras—post-Vietnam, post-Cold War, post-9/11—and identified critical shifts in American public thinking. With its combination of time series and comprehensive coverage, the Chicago Council Survey is a valuable resource to policymakers, academics, media and the general public.