In 2012, Dr. Lamont Colucci was approached by U.S. News and World Report to write a weekly column on foreign policy and national security. This is under the aegis of World Report – Insights, perspectives, and commentary on foreign affairs. View the article on USNews.com
Earlier this month, Fox News in conjunction with Anderson Robbins Research (identifying itself with the Democrats) and Shaw and Company Research (identifying itself with the Republicans) conducted a random sample poll of 1,011 registered voters in order to gauge the electorate’s attitude about President Barack Obama’s strength in foreign affairs and national security. 39 percent of the respondents identified themselves as Democrats and an equal percentage as Republicans (17 percent self-identified as independent, and 4 percent “Don’t Know” or “Refused”) with diversity in education, income, race, gender and age.
The results are disquieting. The president’s overall approval rating is at 42 percent (from a high of 65 percent in January 2009). However, more interesting are the specific issues concerning national security.
The headline statistic concerns the question of safety: “Do you think the United States is safer or less safe today than before 9/11?” 53 percent answered less safe. If we drill downward into more specific questions, similar patterns emerge. 59 percent of voters feel that Obama has been a weak negotiator with foreign leaders; more specifically, 57 percent believe that we are not aggressive enough when dealing with Iran, with an even larger number, 67 percent, endorsing military action against Iran, if it were the only way to keep them from having nuclear weapons. The prospect of allowing Iran to have nuclear weapons is also a non-starter with the American electorate.
The reaction to questions regarding the Islamic State group is telling and shows nuanced thinking from the electorate. Overwhelming supermajorities support American intervention; this is both a blow to the left wing of the Democratic Party and the libertarian/neo-isolationist arm of the Republican Party. Voters clearly believe that the administration has downplayed the threat from the Islamic State group and fully endorse airstrikes, the use of drones and sending a limited number of American ground troops into the fight. They are still skittish about sending in large numbers of American ground troops or sending weapons to allies such as Jordan.
The results of this poll track in many ways with the Pew Research Center survey conducted in conjunction with the Council on Foreign Relations entitled, “America’s Place in the World 2013,” which showed a marked decline in the public’s attitude about Obama’s ability to handle foreign affairs; he received especially low marks in general foreign policy, his handling of Syria, Iran, China, Afghanistan and immigration. They are also is in line with the February 2015 Pew poll concerning the Islamic State group, which clearly shows a shift in more Americans being comfortable with aggressive military action by the United States to defeat the threat of Islamic extremism.
All of this is even better news for the conservative internationalists in the Republican Party. Republicans clearly favor a much more hawkish, muscular, interventionist foreign policy, which should give pause to any neo-isolationist candidate seeking the 2016 presidential nomination. Overall, it seems clear that the trajectory of the electorate favors a conservative foreign policy where America is both prime mover and prime actor.
The citizenry wants a nationalistic leader that understands that the world is dangerous and full of duplicity, often couched in the language of diplomacy. It realizes that the Obama presidency’s attempt to be “anything but Bush” has taken the country on an extremist path towards aimlessness.
Polls should not govern presidential decision-making. We saw the disaster of that model with President Bill Clinton. Polls are mere snapshots of the mindset of a group at a given time. In this case, they provide an idea into what the electorate is thinking and help to disabuse ourselves of the myths that are often perpetrated by many in the media. The media have told us that the American people are tired of foreign intervention and aiding other people, and that the people want diplomacy at any cost. Neither of these is true, and have not been the case since the world has seen the rise of the Islamic State group, the imperial ambitions of Iran, Russian militarism and a newly aggressive China.