American confidence in U.S. international leadership hits 40-year low, poll says

Flickr user United Nations Photo

Flags from around the world fly at the United Nations building in New York. A new Pew Research poll says that a growing number of Americans believe the U.S. is less influential in world politics.Photo by Flickr user United Nations Photo

A rapidly growing number of American believe that U.S. is less powerful and less influential in international politics, according to a recently released Pew Research poll.

This skyrocketing statistic, which has more than doubled in the decade since 2003, is attributed to war fatigue from the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the Iraq war, as well as the U.S. economy and a dearth of political leadership, according to the poll which was commissioned in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations.

The survey, conducted among 2,003 adults from October through November, also concluded that fifty-two percent of Americans now believe that the U.S. should “mind its own business internationally.” This reached an all-time high for the past 50 years of polling by Pew Research.

“I think this is a cyclical, it is a historical cycle” Allida Black, a professor of history and international affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. Black said that, while strong at the moment, she believes that the current pessimistic view of international engagement will not be around forever. Isolationism in the U.S. now, she said, is nowhere near the level of public support for isolationism in the 1930s during the Great Depression or even in the post Vietnam War period of the late 1970s.

“I think what it is is that the American public needs to realize, in real pocketbook ways, the impact that foreign affairs has on the American economy and their lifestyle,” Black added.

The Pew Research poll largely bears out that point. While the American public wants to keep the focus at home, 66 percent of Americans said they thought greater U.S. involvement in the global economy is good. The poll participants agreed that a more open economy exposes the U.S. to new markets and new growth opportunities.

While Americans said they believe the economy can benefit from staying engaged with the world, they are skeptical of leadership in Washington to set the correct policies to engage on the world stage. Seventy percent of Americans said they believed the U.S. is less respected in the world — a number which had declined after President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, but then inched upward to almost the level of where they were in May 2008, towards the end of the George W. Bush Administration.

“The public mood is trending toward a retraction from the world,” said Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center For The People and the Press, which organized the poll. “But it’s a geopolitical retraction not an economic retraction.” The American public remains wary about U.S. military intervention and foreign aid, but, on the whole, still does not support protectionism or anti-immigrant sentiment, Dimock said. The poll indicates a fatigue with war and ineffective American foreign policy, but a willingness to keep America’s economy open to the world.

“This is not an isolationist poll.” Richard Haass, the president of CFR reiterated in an interview. “This is a realist poll. You have surprising numbers against the United States trying to remake other countries; they’re skeptical of it. Support for foreign policy dominated by democracy promotion and human rights promotion is modest, extremely modest.”

H/T Andy Swab