Survey: Trump at Odds with the American People on U.S. Foreign Policy

October 2, 2017

The American public is not on board with America First, according to the 2017 Chicago Council Survey of American public opinion and U.S. foreign policy. In key instances, public support has risen to new highs when it comes to willingness to defend allies, the perceived benefits of trade, and a desire to grant illegal workers a path to citizenship – all sentiments that run counter to the America First strategy President Donald Trump advocates.  

“Our survey finds most Americans favor an active U.S. role in the world, supporting trade, staying in international agreements, and standing steadfastly behind U.S. alliance commitments,” said Ambassador Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “To the supporters of America’s long-standing postwar engagement with the world, most Americans continue to be with you.”

The Council will release the report, “What Americans Think about America First,” at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington D.C. on October 2. A panel of experts – Council President Ivo Daalder, Wilson Center President Jane Harman, Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (R-WI) Mike Gallagher and report author and senior Council fellow Dina Smeltz – will discuss what the survey’s findings mean for the future of U.S. foreign policy and influence abroad. The discussion will be moderated by Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post and will be live streamed at 10:00 a.m. EDT.

The report breaks down findings by partisan affiliation and also separates out those who said they have a “very favorable” view of President Trump—“Core Trump supporters”—from those who did not, in order to investigate public opinion trends within the president’s base.

Americans Value Allies and Are More Willing Than Ever to Defend Them

  • Americans rate maintaining existing alliances as the most effective foreign policy tool, with 49 percent saying they are “very effective,” followed by maintaining U.S. military superiority (47 percent), and building new alliances with other countries (36 percent).
  • Americans have become more convinced that NATO is essential to U.S. security (69 percent compared to 65 percent in 2016), including most core Trump supporters (54 percent).
  • For the first time, a majority of Americans (62 percent) are willing to use U.S. troops to defend South Korea if invaded by North Korea, as well as NATO allies like Latvia, Lithuania, or Estonia if invaded by Russia (52 percent).
  • Fifty-nine percent of Americans believe NATO allies should be convinced to do their part through persuasion and diplomatic channels, with thirty-eight percent advocating withholding the U.S. security guarantee to NATO allies to get them to pay more for defense.
  • A majority of Americans say alliances with Europe and East Asia (60 percent each) are either mutually beneficial or mostly benefit the U.S., and 48 percent say the same about alliances in the Middle East.

A Record Percentage of Americans Recognize Benefits of Trade

  • Record numbers of Americans now say international trade is good for U.S. consumers (78 percent), for the U.S. economy (72 percent), and for job creation (57 percent). Additionally, the perceived benefits of trade are up across all party affiliations.
  • More Americans say that the current administration’s policies will harm (41 percent) rather than protect (32 percent) U.S. workers.
  • There are clear partisan divides with solid majorities among Republicans (64 percent) and core Trump supporters (82 percent) expecting this administration’s policies will do more to protect U.S. workers, which may help explain why they are now more positive about the benefits of international trade.

Concern over Immigration at Lowest Point Yet

  • The anti-immigrant overtones of America First do not resonate with most Americans. Just 37 percent of Americans say immigration is a critical threat, an all-time low since 1998. There are, however, still large differences between Democrats (20 percent) and Republicans (61 percent), with core Trump supporters the most likely to consider immigration a critical threat (80 percent).
  • Two-thirds of Americans support providing illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, although there are partisan divides. A majority of Democrats (77 percent) are in favor with a smaller majority of Republicans (52 percent). Even core Trump supporters are divided, with equal numbers supporting deportation (45 percent) and a path to citizenship (45 percent) for illegal immigrants.

Majority Continue to Support Paris Agreement

  • Sixty-two percent continue to favor U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, down from 2016 (71 percent).
  • Forty-six percent of Americans say climate change is now a critical threat facing the U.S., a record high since the Council first asked the question in 2008.
  • There are serious partisan divides on climate change. Seven in 10 Democrats believe climate change is a critical threat, compared with 16 percent of Republicans, and 12 percent of core Trump supporters.

Fracture within the Republican Party Base

  • The report identifies self-identified Republicans that have a very favorable view of Donald Trump as “Trump Republicans”—54 percent of Republicans overall—and all others as non-Trump Republicans (46 percent of all Republicans).
  • Non-Trump Republicans align more with average U.S. public opinion on NAFTA, security alliances, and immigration, compared to Trump Republicans.

For full data and analysis, download the report here.

See also our previous reports from the 2017 Chicago Council Survey:


The analysis in this report is based on data conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide online research panel between June 27 and July 19, 2017 among a weighted national probability sample of 2,020 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error is ±2.4 percentage points.

The 2017 Chicago Council Survey was made possible by the generous support of The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Charles Koch Institute, the Korea Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, and the personal support of Lester Crown and the Crown Family.