Chasm in opinion on foreign policy goals, says Pew survey

Image courtesy of Pew Research Center

NEW YORK – A new Pew Research Center survey on 26 foreign policy goals of the United States show conflicting partisan priorities between the Republicans and the Democrats, as well as gives great insight for popular dialogue in the run up to the 2020 Presidential elections.

President Trump and the Republican Party will be heartened by the analysis of the survey which indicates that the best way to gain bipartisan appeal is to focus on security, including economic security. The two most important factors for Americans, according to the survey, is protection from terrorist attacks, and no dearth of jobs.

A wide swath of the respondents, about seven-in-ten (72%), say that taking measures to protect the US from terrorist attacks should be a top priority for the country, while about as many (71%) say the same about protecting the jobs of American workers. The survey was conducted November 7-16 among 10,640 adults, and released on November 29th.

Two-thirds (66%) say preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) should be a top long-range priority for the United States.

The survey reveals that with only a handful of exceptions, including stopping the spread of WMD, there are sizable differences between Republicans and Democrats on the 26 foreign policy goals, and on several foreign policy goals, particularly the importance of maintaining US military superiority, there also are notable gaps between older and younger adults.

Improving relationships with US allies ranks at the top of Democrats’ foreign policy goals (70% top priority) but is a middle-tier objective for Republicans (44%). It’s clear that Trump’s policy of ‘Make America Great Again’, touting the value of creating more jobs, at the risk of irking even close allies, has paid off; he’s got acceptance on this front. The result also shows how much of control Trump now exerts over his core base, which has stood loyally by him, despite scathing criticism in the mainstream media.

Again, in an indication of Trump’s growing popularity amongst his base, Republicans are 30 percentage points more likely to say that getting other countries to assume more of the costs of maintaining world order should be a top priority for US foreign policy (56% vs. 26%).

Trump’s influence is clear also when it comes to trade and economic relations. Reducing the US trade deficit with other countries is viewed as a top foreign policy priority by 54% of Republicans, compared with 33% of Democrats. And more Republicans (51%) than Democrats (40%) say promoting US economic interests abroad should be a top foreign policy priority.

A large majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (70%) say that maintaining the US military advantage over all other countries should be a top priority for the US; just 34% of Democrats and Democratic leaners rate this as a top priority. Notably, maintaining US military superiority is a top priority for a majority of adults ages 50 and older (62%). But just 30% of those younger than 30 say this should be a top foreign policy priority.

Democrat leaders and 2020 Presidential aspirants should take close note of the results on refugees and immigrants. While only about four-in-ten Democrats (39%) say that aiding refugees fleeing violence should be a top foreign policy priority, far fewer Republicans (11%) say the same.

Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to rate reducing both illegal immigration and legal immigration into the US as major priorities. The partisan divide on the importance of reducing illegal immigration, 48 percentage points, is wider than at any point in the past two decades (68% of Republicans vs. 20% of Democrats).

It’s clear from the survey that if Democrats hope to make a dent in vote share of some independent and moderate Republican voters, they would have to take a leaf out of Trump’s notebook and talk of the need to secure the border and maintain control of who and how many immigrants enter the country.

Democrats should also be wary of promoting the concept of bringing in a large number of skilled immigrant workers, which would translate to support to strengthen the H-1B visa program. It’s not favorably viewed by most Americans.

The survey indicates that amongst the lowest priorities for American voters is attracting skilled workers from other countries (16% top priority). Americans apparently overwhelmingly favor Trump in this aspect. Under his administration, the noose has tightened on the H-1B visa program, and more restrictions than ever posed for visa workers.

The issue of attracting workers from overseas ranks at the bottom of the table of long-range foreign policy goals, along with promoting democracy in other countries (17%) and finding a solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians (18%).

Another huge difference of opinion between the Democrats and the Republicans is on climate change. Partisans have long differed over the importance of dealing with climate change, noted Pew. But the gap is especially wide today, with 64% of Democrats and just 22% of Republicans saying that dealing with climate change should be a top foreign policy priority for the US, said Pew.

Also, partisan opinions about limiting the power and influence of Iran and Russia are nearly mirror images: 52% of Democrats say reducing Russia’s power and influence should be a top priority, compared with 32% of Republicans. By contrast, 52% of Republicans rate limiting Iran’s power as a top goal, compared with 29% of Democrats. Reducing China’s power and influence is not a leading goal for either party, but more Republicans (39%) than Democrats (26%) rate this as a top priority.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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