Foreign Policy

Public Opinion on U.S. Foreign Policy: Poll Finds Americans Reject Current Status Quo

A series of polls conducted by the Charles Koch Institute and Center for the National Interest consistently found that Americans didn't favor current U.S. foreign policy.

March 1, 2017

A series of polls conducted pre-election, post-election, and post-inauguration by the Charles Koch Institute and the Center for the National Interest consistently found that Americans were not in favor of current U.S. foreign policy.

President Trump’s plans to increase the military budget by $54 billion are at odds with the average American voter’s attitude toward military spending. In fact, a majority believe that we are spending less on defense than we truly are, and a plurality (43 percent) believe that our military spending is sufficient for American security.

These findings are from the latest in a series of polls conducted by the Charles Koch Institute and the Center for the National Interest. The polls, conducted pre-election, post-election, and post-Inauguration, consistently found that Americans are weary of the U.S. foreign policy status quo. The polls asked registered voters how the administration should handle foreign policy, and the results were conclusive: Americans want a new grand strategy.

The majority of Americans, according to all three polls, do not believe that U.S. foreign policy over the past 15 years has made them safer. During that time, reducing the threat of Islamic terrorism has been a primary focus of U.S. foreign policy, yet Americans have not seen evidence of success.

Numerous foreign policy experts, such as Boston University’s Andrew Bacevich, have echoed this sentiment. According to Bacevich, a former Army officer, “U.S. military intervention in the Islamic world has made things worse—at great cost to ourselves and, frankly, at great cost to the people we’re supposedly liberating.”

Restraint and realism were the common themes of the polling results, especially for military engagements abroad. In our October poll, an overwhelming majority of voters said that the next president should use less military force abroad, and in our December poll, only 20 percent of voters said they believe that making more attempts at regime change would improve safety.

Moreover, when respondents were asked about particular military interventions, more than 50 percent said they think the war in Iraq made the United States less secure.

The Charles Koch Institute’s vice president of research and policy Will Ruger suggests that the polling indicates voters want a foreign policy based on humility. In a recent piece for The National Interest, Ruger cautioned against using military force as a “one size fits all” solution to engagements abroad. Citing the United States’ involvement in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, Ruger states, “The U.S. military can effectively hit targets and depose dictators, but has a hard time answering the fundamental question of ‘What comes next?’”

American voters and scholars alike agree that aggressive military engagements do not make America safer. But there are alternatives to military intervention, including trade and diplomacy. Our December poll found that only 26 percent of Americans want to prioritize military power over diplomacy, and 55 percent think that increasing trade would improve U.S. safety.

Favoring diplomacy over military intervention is also in keeping with how American voters tend to see other nations, particularly China and Russia. For example, more Americans would describe China as a “competitor” rather than an “enemy.” Additionally, while American voters have reservations about Russia, more than half see the country as a potential partner for the United States.

Finally, the polls indicate that American voters would prioritize domestic spending ahead of increased military spending. Our February poll found that 79 percent of voters would rather see a hypothetical additional tax dollar go toward a domestic issue, such as debt reduction, while only 12 percent said it should go toward additional military spending.

Therefore, while Washington may be trying to maintain the status quo in foreign policy, American voters have clearly and consistently disagreed. Americans want a realistic grand strategy that exercises restraint while prioritizing U.S. interests.