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Coming Together or Coming Apart?

RESEARCH Public Opinion Survey by Joshua Busby, Craig Kafura, Dina Smeltz, Jordan Tama, Jonathan Monten, Joshua D. Kertzer, and Brendan Helm
Shadows cast from a crowd of people in front of an American flag.

We examine the attitudes of foreign policy opinion leaders and the public in the Trump Era.


In 2018, the Texas National Security Network and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs surveyed foreign policy opinion leaders and compared that data to findings from the public using Chicago Council Survey data on political polarization, trade, NATO, US military bases, immigration, and international agreements.


Under the Trump administration, American foreign policy has experienced dramatic change in a number of areas, many of which reflect the imprimatur of the president himself. The United States has engaged in tariff disputes with major trading partners. The president has expressed deep skepticism about security alliances such as NATO, faulting allies for their failure to spend sufficiently on defense. The administration has initiated major restrictions in the country’s immigration and refugee policies. The Trump administration has also sought to withdraw from major Obama-era agreements, including the Iran nuclear deal and the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change. Are Trump’s policies creating stronger partisan divides among opinion leaders and the American public?

To investigate how public and opinion-leader views are changing during the Trump administration, the Texas National Security Network and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs conducted our third joint opinion leaders survey from August 2 to October 16, 2018. The survey included 588 foreign policy opinion leaders from different professional groups, including executive branch agencies, Congress, academia, think tanks, the media, interest groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), religious institutions, labor unions, and business. In this report, we compare these findings among opinion leaders to findings among the public, using both the 2018 and 2019 Chicago Council Surveys.

Key Findings

  • In some areas, we find little evidence of polarization or partisan rallying around the president’s position.
  • Opinion leaders and the public increasingly see trade as beneficial to the United States, NATO continues to enjoy high bipartisan support, and there is broad support for US bases in Asia.
  • The Republican public has embraced President Trump’s anti-immigration point of view while the Democratic public increasingly rejects that position.
  • On the Iran deal and climate change, long-standing sources of partisan division remain.
About the Authors
Nonresident Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Nonresident Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy expert Joshua Busby
Joshua Busby is an associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin. He is also a nonresident fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Nonresident Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy expert Joshua Busby
Assistant Director, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Council expert Craig Kafura
Craig Kafura is the assistant director for public opinion and foreign policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a Security Fellow with the Truman National Security Project, and a Pacific Forum Young Leader. At the Council, he coordinates work on public opinion and foreign policy and is a regular contributor to the public opinion and foreign policy blog Running Numbers.
Council expert Craig Kafura
Senior Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Headshot for Dina Smeltz
Dina Smeltz, a polling expert, has more than 25 years experience designing and fielding international social and political surveys. Prior to joining the Council to lead its annual survey of American attitudes on US foreign policy, she served in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the US State Department's Office of Research from 1992 to 2001.
Headshot for Dina Smeltz
Jordan Tama
Associate Professor, School of International Service at American University
In addition to working at American University, Jordan Tama is also co-director of Bridging the Gap. His research examines the politics, processes, and tools of US foreign policy. He has published three books and numerous articles in scholarly journals, policy magazines, and newspapers. He has also served as a fellow on Capitol Hill and at major think tanks, a foreign policy speechwriter, and a presidential campaign advisor.
Jonathan Monten
Associate Professor; Director
Jonathan Monten is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the International Public Policy Program at University College London.
Joshua D. Kertzer
Professor of Government, Harvard University
Joshua D. Kertzer's research specializes in the intersection of international security, political psychology, foreign policy, and public opinion. He is the author of Resolve in International Politics (Princeton University Press, 2016), along with articles appearing in a variety of academic journals, including the American Journal of Political Science, British Journal of Political Science, International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Journal of Politics, and World Politics.
Research Assistant
Council expert Brendan Helm
Brendan Helm is a research assistant for the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy and Public Opinion teams at the Council. After earning his undergraduate degree in international relations from the College of William and Mary, he worked at Teaching, Research, and International Policy—a survey project which examined the gap between academia and policymaking.
Council expert Brendan Helm