Results of the 2020 Chicago Council Survey, conducted during the height of the COVID-19 surge in the U.S., reveal a striking divide between Democrats and Republicans on the critical threats facing the country and how the U.S. should address these challenges and engage internationally. Democrats see global and domestic challenges as the most threatening, while Republicans continue to regard traditional security challenges as the biggest threats facing the country.
- COVID Pandemic: Democrats see the pandemic as the top threat, with nine in ten (87%) saying COVID-19 is a critical threat, compared to only half of Republicans (48%), a difference of 39 percentage points. Republicans rate the pandemic 9 out of 15 possible threats.
- China: Republicans see the rise of China as the top threat, with two in three (67%) saying China’s development as a world power is a critical threat. Under half of Democrats (47%) believe China’s rise is a critical threat, and they rank it 13 among 15 possible threats.
- Foreign Interference in US Elections: Seven in ten Democrats (69%) rate foreign interference in U.S. elections a critical threat. Only 41 percent of Republicans agree, a gap of 28 percentage points.
"The breadth of these partisan divides shows a stark difference in how Democrats and Republicans see the world," Council President Ivo Daalder said. "The positions of the presidential candidates reflect these perceptions, and in November, voters will decide not only who will become the next president but also which path U.S. foreign policy will take—either working in partnership with the international community or moving toward a greater degree of self-reliance."
The largest partisan difference on critical threats in the 2020 survey is a 54-percentage-point gap between Democrats (75%) and Republicans (21%) on climate change. Large numbers of immigrants and refugees entering the U.S. is a close second, with a 48-percentage-point difference between Democrats (13%) and Republicans (61%) rating this a critical threat.
The 2020 survey, “Divided We Stand: How Democrats and Republicans View US Foreign Policy,” is the latest in a series of annual surveys measuring U.S. public opinion on foreign policy.
Highlights from the report are below. For more findings, download the full report here.
Top Critical Threats Facing the Country
- Democrats are most concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic (87%), climate change (75%), racial inequality (73%), economic inequality (67%) and foreign interference in U.S. elections (69%).
- Republicans are most concerned about the development of China as a world power (67%), international terrorism (62%), large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the country (61%), and domestic violent extremism (60%).
- Overall, Americans are most concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic (67%), domestic violent extremism (57%), and 55 percent of Americans view China's rise, a global economic downturn, and political polarization in the U.S. as critical threats.
Internationalist vs. Nationalist Approaches to Challenges
- Six in ten Republicans (58%) believe the COVID-19 outbreak has made it more important for the U.S. to be self-sufficient. Only 36 percent strongly agree that “problems like climate change and pandemics are so big that no country can solve them alone.”
- Eight in ten Democrats (80%) say the COVID-19 outbreak has increased the importance of the U.S. collaborating with other countries to solve global issues. Seven in ten strongly agree that when it comes to climate change and pandemics, “international cooperation is the only way we can make progress in solving these problems” (72%).
- Majorities of Democrats say the United Nations (68%), the World Health Organization (71%), and the World Trade Organization (53%) should be more involved in addressing world problems.
- There is no Republican majority support for any international organization to be more involved in addressing the world’s problems, with less than four in ten Republicans favoring the United Nations (39%), the World Health Organization (32%), and the World Trade Organization (30%) playing a greater role.
Across Party Lines, Americans Want to Remain Engaged in World
- Overall, Americans continue to believe that the U.S. needs to remain actively engaged in the world and reject the idea of retreat. Nearly seven in ten (68%) continue to say the U.S. should take an active part in world affairs, 54 percent overall say the U.S. should be more, not less, involved in addressing the world’s problems.
The 2020 Chicago Council Survey, a project of the Lester Crown Center on U.S. Foreign Policy, is the latest effort in a series of wide-ranging surveys on American attitudes toward U.S. foreign policy. The 2020 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the Crown family and the Korea Foundation. The survey was conducted from July 2 to July 19, 2020, among a representative national sample of 2,111 adults. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is +/– 2.3 percentage points, including a design effect of 1.2056.
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 source of longitudinal data on American public opinion about a broad range of U.S. 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.