Sunday, February 24, 2013
Gallup: Americans say preventing terrorism top foreign policy goal. We do thinkin' right.
PRINCETON, NJ — Eighty-eight percent of Americans say preventing future acts of international terrorism should be a very important foreign policy goal of the U.S., top among nine issues. Americans also give a high priority to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and to securing adequate energy supplies for the U.S. Americans are less likely to see promoting economic development in other countries and helping other countries to build democracies as very important U.S. foreign policy goals.
The results are based on Gallup’s annual World Affairs poll, conducted Feb. 7-10. The rank ordering of the nine issues tested in the poll indicates that Americans believe the U.S. should focus its foreign policy on matters that can or do affect the country directly — terrorism, nuclear weapons, energy, and favorable trade policies. Americans give lower priority to matters that involve the U.S. acting on behalf of other countries, including defending U.S. allies, working with international organizations to bring about world cooperation, promoting and defending human rights, and promoting economic development and democracy. These lower priority issues do not have an obvious benefit to the U.S., but they could certainly work to the country’s benefit in the long run.
Still, a majority of Americans say each of the nine issues is at least a somewhat important foreign policy goal for the U.S., indicating Americans see some value in pursuing each.
Gallup has asked a version of this question five times since 2001. Each time, preventing terrorism or preventing nuclear weapons has rated as the most important foreign policy goal, with securing adequate energy supplies also ranking relatively high. Building democracy in other countries has consistently ranked near the bottom of the list.
In general, the importance ascribed to each of the different matters has been fairly stable over time, with securing adequate energy supplies showing a bit more variation, ranging from 68% to 82%. That variation could be influenced by the prevailing energy situation, including gasoline prices, at the time each survey was conducted.
Americans are most likely to say that international issues that have a real or potential direct effect on the U.S. should be very important foreign policy goals for the country. They give a lower priority to matters that involve the U.S. assisting other countries. These preferences have been stable over the past 12 years Gallup has asked this question.
Thus, on the current world stage, for example, it is likely Americans would prioritize the Obama administration’s efforts to prevent North Korea from developing a nuclear weapon over providing assistance to democratic movements in several Middle Eastern nations.
That is not to say Americans are highly isolationist, as two-thirds or more believe a variety of actions designed to help out other countries are at least somewhat important for the U.S. to do. But on a relative basis, Americans show much more consensus on prioritizing foreign policy matters that have a more obvious effect on the U.S.
View methodology, full question results, and trend data.