Anguish Over Iraq Shakes American Public’s Faith in Military Solutions-New Report
NEW YORK CITY - In a joint online release today, Public Agenda and its partner Foreign Affairs made public new results from the fourth edition of the Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index. The new research provides striking evidence that Americans' anguish over Iraq is spilling over to other areas of foreign policy - with serious potential effects on the policy options available to current and future leaders.
This latest Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index (CFPI) - which tracks attitudes on more than 110 items covering nearly all major aspects of foreign policy - along with its Anxiety Indicator based on five key "leading indicators" provide mounting evidence of widespread public doubt about the country's international position. Using a scale of 1 to 200, Public Agenda's Anxiety Indicator gauges Americans' anxiousness or contentment with the nation's foreign policy. The Spring 2007 Anxiety Indicator stands at 137, well above the neutral mid-point of 100 and a seven point increase since September 2006.
"The Anxiety Indicator is moving closer to the 150 mark, the 'red zone' that to me would signal a full blown crisis of public confidence," said Public Agenda Chairman Daniel Yankelovich.
Analysis and data for questions asked in all four editions of the CFPI are available at: www.publicagenda.org/CFPI4
Anxiety Indicator Results
The 137 reading on the Anxiety Indicator is a composite score, reflecting the public's concern on multiple dimensions of foreign policy. The indicator reflects a majority view among the public that they're worried about the nation's position in the world, that the country faces increasing danger abroad, U.S. policy is on the wrong track and that the United States is viewed negatively abroad.
To take the five indicator questions point-by-point:
84 percent are worried about the way things are going for the United States in world affairs (32 percent worry "a lot")
82 percent say the world is becoming more dangerous for the United States and its people (48 percent say "much more dangerous")
73 percent say the United States is not doing a good job as a leader in creating a more peaceful and prosperous world (34 percent say a "poor" job)
68 percent believe the rest of the world sees the United States negatively (34 percent say "very negatively")
67 percent say U.S. relations with the rest of the world are on the wrong track
Iraq and the Spill-Over Effect
Public sentiments on so many of the CFPI questions can only be described as dispirited, and overwhelmingly negative opinions on the efficacy of military options can't help but impact future decisions made by our country's leaders. Despite majority belief (60 percent) that the United States has a moral obligation to the people of Iraq, strong majorities (70 percent) favor withdrawal from Iraq. Americans give the government low marks across the board on its foreign policy efforts.
73 percent now give low grades (C, D or F) to the U.S. for succeeding in Iraq (32 percent give an F); up from 57 percent in June 2005 (F's up from 16 percent in June 2005)
61 percent say America's safety from terrorism does not depend on our success in Iraq and 70 percent say we should leave within the next 12 months (19 percent say immediately)
59 percent say they do not trust the government to tell the truth on foreign affairs, up ten points since September 2006
The public's Iraq frustration is affecting other areas of foreign policy, which is likely to decrease the government's room to maneuver.
The public's belief that the government can do "a lot" about a host of foreign policy issues is dropping.
Only 13 percent say there is a lot the government can do to create a democratic Iraq (down from 20 percent in September 2006)
Only 24 percent say there is a lot the government can do on preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction (down from 32 percent in September 2006)
Only 36 percent say there is a lot the government can do on preventing another major terrorist attack against the United States (down from 45 percent in September 2006)
Public support for military solutions in many scenarios is virtually off the table for most of the public.
In dealing with Iran, for example, support for possible military action is in the single digits (8 percent).
Presented with a list of proposals for strengthening our nation's security, "attacking countries that develop weapons of mass destruction" was ranked at the very bottom (only 17 percent say it would strengthen our security "a lot;" compared to two items at the top of the list: 63 percent for improving intelligence operations and 55 percent for becoming less energy dependent)
70 percent say that criticism that the United States has been too quick to resort to war is at least partly justified (31 percent say it's "totally justified"). On what the government must do to fight terrorism, 67 percent say we should put more emphasis on diplomatic and economic methods, while 27 percent say more emphasis on military efforts
84 percent say "initiating military force only when we have the support of our allies" should be important to our foreign policy (51 percent say "very important")
"Many recent polls have said that Americans are disillusioned with the Iraq war, but this research goes deeper," said Foreign Afffairs Managing Editor Gideon Rose. "We are seeing the public seriously inclined to limit America's foreign policy options because they no longer trust Washington's judgment."
Mounting Concerns on Nuclear Proliferation
Perhaps because of the recent developments in negotiations with North Korea, the public has not given lower grades in this edition of the CFPI to how well the United States is doing on stopping countries from getting nuclear weapons (38 percent give an A or B, 36 percent gave an A or B in September 2006). But stable perceptions of performance have had no apparent impact on increasing worries about nuclear proliferation.
Eighty-two percent say they are worried about the possibility of unfriendly nations becoming nuclear powers (41 percent worry "a lot"). Asked about foreign policy priorities, the public puts preventing the spread of nuclear weapons at the very top of the list. Seventy-five percent say it should be "very important" to our nation's foreign policy. And yet there may be a certain fatalism in the public's mood - 63 percent say it is unrealistic to expect that the U.S. government will be able to prevent more countries from developing nuclear weapons.
United States Should Lead on Global Warming
Seventy-five percent of Americans say they worry about global warming (41 percent worry "a lot"), up from 68 percent in September 2006 (33 percent worried "a lot" in September 2006). The public believes this is a problem that calls for United States leadership, with 65 percent saying it is realistic to expect that international cooperation can reduce global warming (up from 58 percent who said it was realistic in September 2006). The public considers this a high priority for U.S. foreign policy. And seventy percent say there is at least something the government can do to reduce global warming (34 percent say there is "a lot" it can do).
Say it Again, Public
The public has been remarkably consistent over the past two years in the CFPI questions on what should be most important to our nation's foreign policy and what policy options would strengthen our nation's security the most. As in previous editions of the CFPI, topping the list of policy options to strengthen the nation's security are: improving intelligence operations (63 percent say it would enhance our security "a great deal") and increasing energy independence (55 percent say "a great deal").
In this edition of the CFPI, a new item on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons was added to the battery of questions on what strategies should be most important to our foreign policy, and it came out on top, over the previous, but still popular "cooperating with other countries on problems like the environment or control of diseases" and "helping other countries when they are struck by natural disasters" Seventy-five percent say preventing the spread of nuclear weapons should be "very important" to our foreign policy, 72 percent say international cooperation on the environment and the like should be "very important" and 68 percent say helping out on natural disasters should be "very important."
By comparison, "actively creating democracies in other countries" has consistently ranked at or near the bottom of list of strategies, and is now thought to be "very important" by only 17 percent of the public. This is not surprising given that nearly 3 in 4 (74%) now agree "democracy is something countries only come to on their own" (compared to 58 percent in January 2006).
"When you listen to the whole of what the public is telling us in the CFPI, you hear a kind of collective cry of exasperation that comes with what they see as an identity-crushing policy failure," Public Agenda President Ruth A. Wooden said. "The public has come to the conclusion that military solutions aren't the answer, they're talking about the strategies they think would work and are feeling very frustrated that other methods aren't being employed more effectively."
Public Agenda's study probes much deeper than typical polls, examining core strategies and beliefs about America's role in the world and how much the public holds the government accountable on specific issues. Supported with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Ford Foundation, the index covers more than 25 different issues through more than 110 different survey questions and has been issued biannually. Public Agenda's foreign policy survey has been fielded four times, first in June 2005, again in January 2006 and Septebmer 2006, and most recently March 2007. Public Agenda interviews a nation-wide random sample of adult Americans to track the changing state of mind of average Americans toward foreign policy - what worries people most, where they support or resist present foreign policy, what their priorities are, and what foreign policy initiatives make sense to them.
Sampling: This fourth iteration of the study was based on interviews with a national random sample of 1,013 adults over the age of 18 between February 21 and March 4, 2007. It covered over 25 major policy areas in more than 130 different survey questions. The margin of error for the overall sample is plus or minus three percentage points. Full survey results can be found at www.publicagenda.org or www.confidenceinforeignpolicy.org.