Poll: Most Americans Reject Isolationism, See U.S. As ‘Force for Good in the World’

By Patrick Goodenough | September 28, 2012 | 4:45am EDT

More than 85 percent of respondents in a new poll of American likely voters see the United States as a “force for good in the world.” In this file picture taken on Sept. 11, 2011, three American soldiers sit beneath a U.S. flag at Forward Operating Base Bostick in Afghanistan’s Kunar province. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

(CNSNews.com) – Most Americans reject isolationism, do not believe the U.S. spends an excessive amount on defense, and say it’s important for the U.S. to continue playing a significant role in global affairs, according to a new opinion poll.

The commissioning organization, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), says the findings show that “foreign policy matters” in the election campaign, despite assertions to the contrary.

“[D]espite continuing concerns about the economy and other domestic issues, an overwhelming majority of Americans (92.2%) assign importance to the United States continuing to play a significant role in global affairs, and a very strong majority of Americans (85.7%) still see the United States as a ‘force for good in the world,’” FPI said in a statement accompanying the results Thursday.

Conducted by Basswood Research from September 15-17, the survey polled 1,000 likely voters, 37.9 percent of whom identified as Republican, 39.9 percent as Democrat, and 20 percent either as independent or not associated with a political party.

Forty-nine percent of respondents named the economy as their top concern in deciding how to vote in November, followed by social security/Medicare (13.8 percent), national debt (9.5 percent), health care (8.6 percent) and national security (5.7 percent).

Despite that relatively low score for national security, the poll – conducted several days after anti-U.S. protests and the deadly attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya – also found that recent events in the Middle East had increased national security’s importance in the mind of likely voters.

A total of 59.8 percent of respondents said those events had made national security issues more important in deciding for whom to vote, while 31.9 percent said it made no difference.

Other findings:

--Sixty-three percent of respondents said current levels of defense spending were “about right” (40.1 percent) or “too little” (23.0 percent); while 28.6 percent of Americans said that “too much” was being spent on the military.

--Offered three options as to the biggest contributing factor to the national debt problem, 42 percent chose spending on mandatory entitlements, 27.7 percent said “too many tax cuts,” and 14.5 percent selected too much spending on defense.

--Asked which country poses “the most danger” to U.S. national security interests, 45.1 percent of respondents said Iran, with China in distant second place at 7.6 percent, followed by Afghanistan at 6.3 percent.

--As to America’s “best ally in the world today,” 54 percent favored Britain, followed by Israel at 15.9 percent and Canada at 8.7 percent.

--Seventy percent of respondents (80.9 percent conservatives, 62.9 percent liberals, 68.5 percent moderates) viewed Israel favorably.

--Sixty-two percent of respondents favored preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, even if that required the use of military force; while 23.3 percent preferred the option of avoiding military conflict with Iran, even at the risk of Tehran developing a nuclear arsenal.

Even self-identified liberals and moderates leaned more towards the former option than the latter one: The poll found 44.6 percent of self-identified liberals, 57.8 percent of self-identified moderates and 78.6 percent of self-identified conservatives, favored preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, even if that meant military force was needed. In contrast, 35.9 percent of self-identified liberals, 26.4 percent of self-identified moderates and 12.3 percent of self-identified conservatives preferred the option of avoiding conflict, even if that meant Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

--More self-identified liberals held favorable views of China (48.6 percent) and Russia (43.8 percent) than did conservatives, 31.1 percent of whom viewed China favorably, and 25.4 percent of whom regarded Russia in a favorable light.

Established in 2009, FPI describes itself as an organization that “seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America's global economic competitiveness.”

Directors are Dan Senor, Eric Edelman and Robert Kagan – all advisors on foreign policy to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney – and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol.

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