Dec 27, 2018 - World

America's great foreign policy divide

Americans are sharply divided over the role the U.S. should play around the world, and even over who America's top adversaries are, according to a report from Pew.

Data: Pew survey of 10,640 U.S. adults conducted Nov. 7-16, 2018. Margin of error ±1.7 percentage points; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios
Data: Pew survey of 10,640 U.S. adults conducted Nov. 7-16, 2018. Margin of error ±1.7 percentage points; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

The big picture: Two years into Donald Trump's pugnacious and unpredictable presidency, polls show the world's view of U.S. leadership falling sharply. Democrats' top foreign policy priority is now repairing the alliances that have been fraying under Trump. Republicans, meanwhile, tend to want more of the same.

  • What to watch: Expect those themes to crop up when election season kicks off.

The competing visions...

  • The top priorities for Democrats are strengthening alliances, preventing the spread of WMDs, protecting U.S. jobs and dealing with climate change.
  • Republicans focus on protecting against terrorism, protecting jobs, maintaining military supremacy and reducing illegal immigration.
  • Republicans are more likely to consider countering Iran (52% R, 29% D) and China (39% R, 26% D) as priorities, while Democrats are more worried about Russia (32% R, 52% D).

The growing divide...

  • When the question was last asked in 2011, there was only a one-point gap between Democrats (48%) and Republicans (47%) on whether strengthening alliances should be a priority. That gap is now 26 points.
  • Divides over illegal immigration, human rights promotion and climate change have also grown. Those trends largely predate Trump.

The generation gap...

  • "Only about three-in-ten young people feel that the U.S. should place top priority on limiting the power and influence of Russia (29%), Iran (29%) and North Korea (26%). Even fewer say the same about China (21%)."
  • Young people are less concerned about maintaining military superiority, and more interested in bringing troops home. They're also more worried about human rights than older respondents.

What Americans don't care about...

  • Neither party cares much about attracting skilled workers from other countries, promoting democracy abroad or finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • Helping developing countries and aiding refugees also rank pretty low, though 30-some percent of Democrats consider them a priority, compared to one-in-ten Republicans.

The bottom line: Americans generally agree that the president should focus on jobs, protecting against terrorism and preventing countries from getting nuclear weapons. As for the rest, it depends who you ask.

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