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Measuring Americans' Views on Isolationism, Multilateralism and the Country's Most Pressing Foreign Policy Challenges

Updated: Sept. 13, 2022 | By Jason I. McMann, PhD

 

Morning Consult’s U.S. Foreign Policy Tracker follows Americans’ views of U.S. foreign policy, including which issues they find most important, whether public opinion skews toward isolationism or engagement, and whether voters favor multilateral solutions to global economic and military challenges or prefer to go it alone. The tracker pairs Morning Consult’s crosscutting U.S. Foreign Policy Sentiment Indexes — which measure voters’ attitudes toward isolationism and multilateralism — with topical data on Democrats’ and Republicans’ evolving views on U.S.-China and U.S.-E.U. relations, foreign trade and investment, and more to provide holistic, high-frequency insights into Americans’ foreign policy preferences. The tracker updates monthly. A methodological companion memo can be found here.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Voters Are Looking Inward: With the exception of climate change, voters’ top foreign policy concerns — terrorism, cyberattacks, and U.S.-bound immigration and drug trafficking — are inward-looking.

Climate Change Efforts Could Falter: If Congress swings Republican in November, U.S. efforts to mitigate climate change are poised to become the first casualty. Only 17% of Republicans place the issue among their top five concerns, compared with 65% of Democrats.

Russia, China on the Back Burner: Americans’ limited concern about the war in Ukraine and the trajectory of U.S.-China relations is firmly bipartisan. Only 18% to 32% of voters place either issue among their top five concerns.

Isolationism on Deck for the GOP: Just under 50% of Republicans want U.S. foreign policy to become more isolationist, while Democrats waver between turning inward and maintaining current levels of engagement.

Bullish Republican Tariffs Outlook: While Democrats are nearly evenly split between maintaining current tariff levels and increasing them (33% vs. 31%), a near majority of Republicans (49%) favor the latter.

Multilateralism Is Here to Stay: A return to Trump-era antagonism toward U.S. allies would be unlikely under a GOP-controlled Congress. Larger shares of Republicans (32% to 35%) want the United States to increase its efforts to resolve both military and economic disputes in coordination with its partners instead of going it alone (20% to 21%), in line with Democrats’ views.

Top Issues

Americans’ Top Foreign Policy Issues
Shares of registered voters citing each of the following as among the top five most important foreign policy issues facing the United States:
“Immigration” and “drug trafficking” items refer to flows into the United States. “Disinformation” refers specifically to efforts by foreign governments to influence U.S. politics. “Terrorism” and “cyberattacks” refer specifically to actions targeting the United States

 

Americans’ Top Foreign Policy Issues: Side-by-Side Comparisons

Shares of registered voters citing each of the following as among the top five most important foreign policy issues facing the United States:

“Immigration” and “drug trafficking” items refer to flows into the United States. “Disinformation” refers specifically to efforts by foreign governments to influence U.S. politics. “Terrorism” and “cyberattacks” refer specifically to actions targeting the United States

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Isolationism vs. Engagement

Indexes of U.S. Isolationism and Engagement

Indexes report the average shares of voters who favor greater isolationism, stability or engagement in U.S. foreign policy across three thematic issue areas

The thematic issue areas, each composed of two data series, include (1) soft power and foreign aid, covering attitudes toward involvement in other countries’ affairs and foreign aid provision; (2) overseas military engagement, covering support for U.S. troop deployments and involvement in military conflicts; and (3) trade and investment policies, covering preferences toward tariffs on foreign goods and barriers to inward foreign investment. Each index is computed as a simple average of shares corresponding to response levels (isolationism, stability and engagement) across all six component data series. “Don’t know/No opinion” responses do not factor into the index calculations and are not shown here.

Isolationism vs. Engagement: Select Index Components

Involvement in Other Countries’ Affairs

Shares of voters who think the United States should increase its involvement in the affairs of other countries

Response categories — increase, neither increase nor decrease, and decrease — respectively connote engagement, stability and isolationism in the corresponding Morning Consult indexes. “Don’t know/No opinion” responses do not factor into the index calculations and are not shown here.

 

Overseas Troop Deployments

Shares of voters who think the U.S. government should increase the deployment of troops overseas

Response categories — increase, neither increase nor decrease, and decrease — respectively correspond to engagement, stability and isolationism in the corresponding Morning Consult indexes. “Don’t know/No opinion” responses do not factor into the index calculations and are not shown here.

 

Trade and Tariffs

Shares of voters who think the United States should increase tariffs on foreign-made goods

Response categories — increase, neither increase nor decrease, and decrease — respectively correspond to isolationism, stability and engagement in the corresponding Morning Consult indexes. “Don’t know/No opinion” responses do not factor into the index calculations and are not shown here.

Multilateralism vs. Unilateralism

Indexes of U.S. Multilateralism and Unilateralism

Series report the average shares of voters who favor multilateralism, stability or unilateralism in U.S. foreign policy, measured across three thematic issue areas

The thematic issue areas, each composed of a single data series, address three distinct aspects of U.S. foreign policy, including (1) policy coordination via diplomatic forums, covering attitudes toward U.S. involvement in international organizations; (2) military policy coordination, covering attitudes toward addressing global military disputes in coordination with U.S. partners and allies as opposed to going it alone; and (3) economic policy coordination, covering the same attitudes in the context of global economic disputes. Each index is computed as a simple average of shares corresponding to response levels (multilateralism, stability and unilateralism) across all three component data series. “Don’t know/No opinion” responses do not factor into the index calculations and are not shown here.

Multilateralism vs. Unilateralism: Select Index Components

Involvement in International Organizations

Shares of voters who think the United States should increase its involvement in international organizations like the United Nations

Response categories — increase, neither increase nor decrease, and decrease — respectively connote multilateralism, stability and unilateralism in the corresponding Morning Consult indexes. “Don’t know/No opinion” responses do not factor into the index calculations and are not shown here.

 

Resolution of Military Disputes

Shares of voters who think the United States should increase its efforts to resolve military disputes involving itself and other countries by coordinating a response with its allies instead of going it alone

Response categories — increase, neither increase nor decrease, and decrease — respectively correspond to multilateralism, stability, and unilateralism in the corresponding Morning Consult indices.

 

Resolution of Economic Disputes

Shares of voters who think the United States should increase its efforts to address economic disputes involving itself and other countries by coordinating a response with its allies instead of going it alone

Response categories — increase, neither increase nor decrease, and decrease — respectively connote multilateralism, stability and unilateralism in the corresponding Morning Consult indexes. “Don’t know/No opinion” responses do not factor into the index calculations and are not shown here.

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About

Methodology

The U.S. Foreign Policy Tracker relies on data collected through Morning Consult’s proprietary survey research capabilities. Interviews are conducted online.

All data featured in the tracker derives from weekly surveys conducted among representative samples of roughly 2,000 registered voters each, with unweighted margins of error of +/-2 percentage points. Data are weighted to approximate representative samples of U.S. voters.

Dates indicated in all charts correspond to the last day of survey fielding for each wave.

About Morning Consult

Morning Consult is a global decision intelligence company changing how modern leaders make smarter, faster, better decisions. The company pairs its proprietary high-frequency data with applied artificial intelligence to better inform decisions on what people think and how they will act. Learn more at morningconsult.com.

About the author

Jason McMann is Head of Geopolitical Risk Analysis for Morning Consult. He leverages the company’s high-frequency survey intelligence to advise clients on how to integrate geopolitical risk into their decision-making.

Email press@morningconsult.com to speak with a member of Morning Consult’s Geopolitical Risk Analysis team about the U.S. Foreign Policy Tracker.

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