A new survey focuses on the evolution of U.S. public opinion on foreign policy. The survey, called the Public Agenda Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index, finds Americans anxious about U.S. relations with the Muslim world and puzzled about their nation's image in the international community.
According to the survey, the relationship between Islam and the West dominates the foreign policy issues that concern Americans the most: the war in Iraq, terrorism, the United States' image abroad.
The independent opinion research group, Public Agenda, designed the survey and plans to repeat and update it every six months. One of the founders of Public Agenda, public opinion guru (expert) Daniel Yankelovich, says contrary to conventional wisdom, Americans have always cared about their international image.
"Many polls have reported the growing concern about our engagement in Iraq. What I find particularly interesting in this study is to see that these concerns about Iraq are definitely set in the public mind in the larger context of worries about relations with other nations," Mr. Yankelovich says. "In particular, there is a deep concern (about) the growing hatred of the United States in Muslim countries and a general loss of trust in friendship in other countries."
The survey also found that Americans are often inconsistent in their responses about how to deal with those issues. Sixty-four percent of the respondents said the United States should put more emphasis on diplomatic and economic methods of countering terrorism than military efforts. Yet almost half of the participants said charges that the United States ignores the interests of other nations are not justified. And an overwhelming number, 83 percent, gave the United States high grades for humanitarian efforts.
"There are some aspects that Americans are tremendously proud of, like aid to other countries in the wake of natural disasters. That stands out like a beacon," Mr. Yankelovich says.
Another big concern, the Confidence in US Foreign Policy Index finds, is immigration, with 41 percent of participants preferring tighter controls on foreign students. Another growing worry, Mr. Yankelovich says, is the outsourcing of jobs from the United States to other countries.
"There is a feeling of inevitability and fatalism that people have that if other countries are offering lower cost labor, then the jobs will simply go there and that the government does not have that much control over it," Mr. Yankelovich says. "If that becomes a political issue in the future, then that issue will have a lot of dynamism."
Former Secertary of the Navy Richard Danzig is a member of the board of Public Agenda. He says the on-going survey should be a boon to the public and to policy makers because, unlike other polls, it will track the evolution of public sentiment over time.
"There is no question that terrorists want to influence U.S. public opinion in directions of disengagement or divisiveness or disillusionment," Mr. Danzig says. "And there is no question, I think, that our government, leading policy makers always need to think when they consider initiatives about the degree to which the U.S. public will support them. The second thing is, I think, for policy makers, a big issue is how you explain to our public what seems to be an optimal course and how you bring it along in the direction you think is desirable."
The findings are based on telephone interviews and focus groups with about one-thousand adults. Sponsors say this first Foreign Policy Index will serve as the benchmark for future polls to measure changes in public opinion.