WASHINGTON - The war in Iraq and other foreign affairs are
more important to voters in the coming presidential election than the
economy, marking the first time since the Vietnam era that U.S. citizens
are putting more weight on foreign policy than domestic concerns, according
to a poll released Wednesday.
Forty-one percent of voting-age adults rated ”war, foreign policy and
terrorism” the most important problems facing the nation, concluded the
survey released by the Pew Research Center (PRC) in association with the
Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), an established, Washington-based think
Economic issues topped the concerns of 26 percent of respondents while the
same number chose ”other domestic issues,” added the survey.
”The Sep. 11 attacks and the two wars that followed not only have raised
the stakes for voters as they consider their choice for president, but also
have created deep divisions and conflicting sentiments over U.S. foreign
policy in a troubled time,” said a PRC statement.
The poll found that nearly as many respondents favored a ”decisive foreign
policy” (62 percent) as supported a cautious approach (66 percent).
And reflecting a growing partisan gap on foreign policy sentiment,
Republican voters, from the party of President George W Bush, assign higher
priority to decisiveness than to caution, while Democrats do the opposite.
The survey was conducted Jul. 8-18 among 2,009 adults across the United
A narrow majority of respondents, 53 percent, still believe it was the
”right decision” to use military force in Iraq, but the number has dropped
from the 74 percent who held that view after the U.S.-led attack in March
In a related field, 52 percent of respondents said they disapproved with
how the Bush administration has handled the situation in Iraq, while 43
percent continue to approve of its actions there.
In a follow-up poll conducted Aug. 5-10 among 1,512 adults, the PRC found
that, more than a month after the transfer of sovereignty to an interim
Iraqi government, 58 percent of respondents said Bush does not have a clear
plan for bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion.
Presumably in response to the ongoing quagmire in Iraq, a solid 59 percent
of respondents, in the July foreign policy survey, faulted the
administration for being too quick to use force as a foreign policy tool
rather than trying to reach diplomatic solutions.
Since May 2003 the number of respondents who ”sometimes” support
pre-emptive military action had sunk from 45 percent to 40 percent, the
Bush and his main ally, U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, launched the attack
on Iraq without the support of many of their traditional allies, alleging
that the weapons of mass destruction of former President Saddam Hussein
constituted a grave threat. Those weapons have yet to be found.
In the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, public sympathies still lie
predominantly with Israel, by a margin of 40 percent to 13 percent, but
there has been a noticeable decline in the percentage of Americans who
regard U.S. policies in the Middle East as ”fair” -- 35 percent, down from
47 percent in May 2003.
The poll found respondents clearly aware of the loss of respect for the
United States internationally as a result of recent foreign policy
decisions, with two-thirds saying the country is less respected by other
countries than in the past.
”The fact that two-thirds of U.S. citizens say the U.S. is less respected
in the world is highly significant,” said PRC Editor Carroll Doherty in an
interview with IPS.
Not surprisingly, 87 percent of those who thought the war in Iraq was the
wrong decision believed the nation is less respected internationally.
”The fact that respondents say the U.S. is less respected echoes some of
the things (Democratic presidential challenger John) Kerry has said on the
campaign trail,” said Doherty.
However, heightened awareness of the threat of terrorism resulted in 88
percent of respondents rating ”taking measures to protect the United States
from terrorist attacks” as a ”top foreign policy priority.”
The polls results do not significantly bolster either presidential
contender, Kerry or Bush. ”It's a mixed message for both of them,” said
Forty-nine percent of those polled supported taking into account the
interests of U.S. allies when making foreign policy decisions while only 37
percent believed decisions should be based mostly on the national interest
of the United States.
”They (the U.S. public) want policy more predicated on allied interests,”
according to Doherty. ”(The United States public) see allies as being
important but that doesn't mean the public is willing to abandon tough
measures in the war on terror,” he added.
In terms of domestic security and civil liberties, respondents by a
significant margin, 49 percent to 29 percent, were concerned that the
government had not gone far enough to protect the country rather than that
the government had gone too far in restricting civil liberties.
Although investigations into torture and other human rights abuses by U.S.
military personnel against prisoners in the administration's ”war on
terrorism” continue, 53 percent of those polled believed torture should
rarely or never be used to gain important information from suspected
terrorists while a large minority, 43 percent, said torture can, at least
sometimes, be justified.
Republicans and Democrats were shown to hold sharply divergent views on
foreign policy and the ”war on terror.”
Fifty-one percent of Democrats believed U.S. wrongdoings in dealing with
other countries might have motivated the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks
while a majority, 76 percent, of Republicans rejected that notion.
Eighty percent of Democrats believed the United States is less respected by
other countries than in the past while only 47 percent of Republicans
agreed with that statement.
When asked to rank national priorities, Democrats placed creating and
protecting jobs in the United States as their highest priority, followed by
combating terrorism and slowing the spread of AIDS.
Republicans made fighting terrorism the highest priority, followed by
preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and creating and
protecting U.S. jobs.
© Copyright 2004 IPS - Inter Press Service