Public Agenda Alert -- Aug. 3, 2005
* First Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index Released
The American public sees the web of issues surrounding relations with the Islamic world as the fundamental foreign policy problem facing the nation, but they have little idea what to do about it. So far, public thinking is a disquieting mix of high anxiety, growing uncertainly about current policy, and virtually no consensus about what else the country might do.
These and other findings are part of the new Public Agenda Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index. To be issued regularly by Public Agenda in cooperation with Foreign Affairs, the index is designed to explore the public's long-term judgments and beliefs about America's role in the world. Supported with funding from the Ford Foundation, the index covers more than 25 different issues through more than 80 different survey questions.
We found the public's concerns are dominated by issues that all lead back to the central theme of Islam and the West: the Iraq war, the global war on terrorism, and the public image of the United States abroad. Even before the London bombings, these worries rose without prompting in both our survey and focus groups. But there is confusion and contradiction when the public is asked about possible strategies for dealing with the Muslim world.
The index also reveals several foreign policy issues that have attracted less attention from leadership elites, but that the public cares about deeply. The problems of illegal immigration and protecting American jobs in a global economy resonate strongly with the public. Three quarters of the public give the U.S. a "C" grade or worse in protecting our borders from illegal immigration, with nearly one-quarter giving an "F." Half of Americans give the country a "D" or "F" grade on protecting American jobs from going overseas (and three in 10 chose "F.")
About half the public (49 percent) says there are "too many things worrying and disappointing" them about relations with the rest of the world, compared to 40 percent who say the United States is "generally doing the right things."
Three-quarters of Americans worry about losing trust and friendship abroad and about a growing hatred of the United States in Muslim countries (40 percent worry a lot). When asked how the rest of the world sees the United States, nearly two-thirds said the world has a negative view and fully one in 10 (the largest single group) actually used the words "bully" or "bullying" unprompted to describe how America is viewed from abroad.
Yet even as people say it, there is reason to believe they do not accept it. The public believes strongly in the United States as a force for humanitarian good. Fully 83 percent gave the U.S. an "A" or "B" for helping other countries during natural disasters, by far the highest grade in the survey. Half give the U.S. "A" and "B" grades for helping to create democracy overseas.
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