Pew Research: Republicans, Democrats have starkly different foreign affairs priorities

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A new comprehensive study on American views on foreign affairs finds to no surprise that Republicans are from Mars and Democrats from Venus, but also finds Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump‘s supporters more isolationist than anyone.

The survey, released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, finds that Democrats consider the nation’s biggest global fears to be climate change, ISIS, cyberattacks and disease pandemics, and few lose much sleep over threats to the United States from Syrian refugees, China or Russia.

Republicans, on the other hand, worry about just about every global menace except climate change, and their biggest concerns are ISIS, cyberattacks, Syrian refugees, and global economic instability.

The same survey breaks out foreign affairs issues by candidate supporter, and finds Trump’s supporters far less likely than other candidates’ to want to see the United States intervene militarily or economically in other countries. Trump supporters are most likely to want to see the United States spend more on the war on terror and more on the U.S. military, while also saying America is already too involved overseas. Trump supporters mainly want to see America provide foreign aid.

Overall, the survey found a relatively broad isolationist viewpoint.

“The public views America’s role in the world with considerable apprehension and concern. In fact, most Americans say it would be better if the U.S. just dealt with its own problems and let other countries deal with their own problems as best they can,” Pew reports in its survey, “Public Uncertain, Divided Over America’s Place in the World,” posted Thursday.

Among the lengthy report’s findings:

  • Overall, 45 percent of Americans think military spending should stay about as it is, while 35 percent believe that it should be increased and 24 percent think it should be decreased. There is a dramatic split by party, however; 61 percent of Republicans think military spending needs to be increased, compared with 31 percent of independents and 20 percent of Democrats.
  • Overall, 57 percent of Americans think the U.S. should deal with its own problems for now, and 37 percent believe that it should help other countries with their problems. Similarly, 41 percent of Americans think the country is doing too much to support other countries, 28 percent think the current programs are just about right, and 27 percent think they’re not enough.
  • 65 percent of Trump supporters believe U.S. foreign aid is a bad thing, while 55 percent of Democrat Hillary Clinton supporters think it’s a good thing. Supporters of Democrat Bernie Sanders and now ex-candidates Republicans U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are all pretty evenly split on the question.
  • Overall, 54 percent of Americans think the United States is the world’s leading economic power; followed by 34 percent who believe it is China; 6 percent, Japan; and 2 percent the European Union.
  • Overall, 72 percent of Americans think the United States is the world’s leading military power; followed by 12 percent who believe it is China, 10 percent, Russia; and 2 percent the European Union.
  • 91 percent of Republicans think that ISIS and similar groups are a major threat to U.S. security, while 76 percent of both Democrats and independents think that.
  • 77 percent of Democrats believe climate change is a major threat to U.S. security, compared with 52 percent of independents and 26 percent of Republicans.
  • 77 percent of Trump supporters sympathize with Israel and 10 percent with Palestinians. For Clinton supporters the split is 47 to 27 percent; For Sanders supporters it’s 33 to 39 percent.
  • Trump and Clinton supporters generally agree on the balance between homeland protection measures and civil liberties, while Sanders supporters disagree: 66 percent of Trump’s supporters think the country’s anti-terrorism policies have not gone far enough, and 20 percent think too far, threatening civil liberties. For Clinton’s supporters the split is 51 to 35 percent, while for Sanders’ its 33 to 51 percent.
  • 54 percent of Trump’s supporters think the U.S. does too much to try to solve the world’s problems. For Clinton’s supporters, it’s 34 percent and for Sanders’, 42 percent. Overall, 41 percent of Americans think so.
  • Overall, 49 percent of Americans think that U.S. involvement in the global economy is a bad thing, and 44 percent a good thing. The opposition was more pronounced among Republicans, older people and people with limited education. People ages 18 to 29, college graduates and liberals were the only groups that mostly thought involvement in the global economy is a good thing.
  • Landslide majorities of Trump’s supporters oppose the U.S. importing more goods, increasing investment in developing countries and increasing foreign aid. Strong majorities, sometimes over 60 percent, of both Clinton’s and Sanders supporters support those policies.
  • 85 percent of Trump’s supporters think the Syrian/Iraqi refugee crisis is a significant threat to America, while only 40 percent of Clinton’s supporters think so, and only 34 percent of Sanders’.
  • Strong majorities of every party and candidate constituency support the current U.S. military campaign against ISIS, ranging from 56 percent of Sanders’ supporters to 66 percent of Trump’s supporters.
  • But almost no group majority believes that the anti-ISIS campaign is actually going well, except for Clinton’s supporters (57 percent).
  • The biggest difference by party is on the question of whether overwhelming use of military force against global terrorism is a good thing or bad thing. Republicans think it is the best way to defeat terrorism, by 70 percent to 24 percent. Democrats think it would only inspire more worldwide hatred of the U.S., leading to more terrorism, by 65 percent to 31 percent. Independents were pretty split, leaning slightly toward worrying about fostering worldwide hatred (49 percent to 45 percent.)

Most of the analysis in the Pew report is based on telephone interviews conducted April 12-19 among a national sample of 2,008 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (505 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 1,503 were interviewed on a cellphone, including 914 who had no landline telephone).

Some of the analysis is based on telephone interviews conducted April 7-10 among a national sample of 1,000 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in the continental United States (500 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 500 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 318 who had no landline telephone). The survey was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International.

Depending on the sample discussed in the particular question (Republicans, Democrats, Independents, liberals, conservatives, supporters of specific candidates, etc.), the margins of error ranged from 3.7 to 9 percent.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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