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Polls Find Broad Support for Greater Altruism

Eli Clifton

WASHINGTON - The U.S. public rejects the idea that the United States should revert to a more isolationist foreign policy, but expresses dissatisfaction with the current role of the U.S. in the world and the destabilising effect it is having, concludes a compilation of recent public opinion polls.

"People have the impression that public opinion data gives highly discrepant results and that's really not true. If you take all of the polling data it's really quite coherent," PIPA director and WPO editor Steven Kull told IPS. "We don't look at polling as a one shot thing, but accumulating a body of knowledge where every piece of data is useful."The compilation, conducted by the Programme on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and World Public Opinion (WPO), found that a majority of U.S. citizens support the existence of U.S. military bases in the territory of traditional allies but support is weak for the ongoing military presence in the Middle East.

In July 2006, a Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll found that 69 percent of U.S. citizens support Washington's involvement in world affairs, while 28 percent said it would be best if the United States stayed out of world affairs.

Since the attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, public opinion polls have shown a trend of greater support for U.S. involvement in world affairs.

A PIPA poll in 1996 asking similar questions found only 60 percent of U.S. citizens supporting involvement in international affairs, while 35 percent supported disengagement from the world.

Although U.S. citizens appear to support engagement with the rest of the world, dissatisfaction is evident in polls regarding the current state of the George W. Bush administration's foreign policy.

A January 2007 Gallup poll found that 56 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the current role of the U.S. in the world, up from the 51 percent who shared that view in 2006.

Furthermore, majorities of U.S. citizens see the world as more dangerous and large numbers attribute that to the Bush administration's foreign policy.

A September 2006 Public Agenda poll found that 79 percent of respondents agree that the world is becoming more dangerous for the U.S. while only 19 percent thought it was less dangerous.

Sixty percent of respondents believed that as a result of the Bush administration's foreign policy the likelihood of terrorist attacks had increased, according to an October 2006 WPO poll.

The PIPA/WPO report reflected a trend of the U.S. public wanting continued engagement with world affairs but a discontent with the current way in which U.S. foreign policy was placing the country in the world.

A June 2006 German Marshall Fund (GMF) poll revealed that 84 percent of U.S. citizens believe it is desirable that the U.S. exert strong leadership in world affairs but this support for leadership goes hand in hand with a rejection of a hegemonic role.

A February 2007 Gallup poll showed that only 15 percent of U.S. citizens believe the U.S. should take "the leading role" in solving international problems while 58 percent said the U.S. should "take a major role but not the leading role."

"Foreigners have a rather intense view that America is too unilateralist and too willing to use force, but when you ask Americans they say basically the same thing [but] they don't see it in as extreme terms," said Kull. "They still basically agree with much of the critique the world public has made of late."

Seventy-one-percent of citizens agree that, "(t)he United States should look beyond its own self-interest and do what's best for the world as a whole, because in the long rung this will probably help make the kind of world that is best for the U.S.," according to a November 2006 poll conducted by WPO.

"There's a tendency to assume that when Americans look at the international situation they look at it through the lens of American national interest. What we see is that what they really see is the U.S. state as something that is important to address their needs, interest and values, but they are not so narrowly defined as to not take into account the needs of other countries," said Kull. "Policy makers might find that surprising."

Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service.

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