Published on 05 September 2014, by M. Tomazy.
After years of retrenchment in the wake of two costly wars, a new USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll finds that Americans increasingly are open to a larger U.S. role in trying to solve problems around the world.
The public remains conflicted over just how much the United States can and should do to address global challenges. But the initial shifts in public opinion could make it easier for President Obama to order more muscular options in striking Islamic State terrorists in Syria and Iraq. If the trend continues, it could help shape the 2016 campaign to succeed him.
"This runs counter to this conventional wisdom that the public is isolationist," says Bruce Jentleson, a former State Department adviser in the Obama administration who is now a professor at Duke and a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "It's not trigger-happy, but it's also not totally gun-shy."
In more problematic findings for the White House, the nationwide survey also shows broad dissatisfaction with Obama's handling of crises in Russia, Iraq and the Middle East. A 54 percent majority, including some of his most reliable supporters, complain the president is "not tough enough" in his approach to foreign policy and national security issues.
The poll of 1,501 adults, taken by landline and cellphone Aug. 20-24, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
In the survey, 39 percent say the United States does too much in helping solve world problems; 31 percent say the U.S. does too little.That reflects a significant change from less than a year ago, when in a previous Pew Research Center poll Americans by an overwhelming 51 percent-17 percent said the U.S. did too much.
A 34-percentage-point gap in November 2013 has narrowed to 8 points now.
Among Democrats and independents, the percentage saying the U.S. does too little has jumped by about 10 points. The increase is even more striking in the GOP. In November, about one in five Republicans said the U.S. did too little; now nearly half do.
"There's more challenges in the world; it's getting worse," Angela Chramer of Birmingham, Ala., said in a follow-up interview. The 51-year-old video producer, who was among those surveyed, says growing problems demonstrate the need for the United States to show leadership. "If we pull back, somebody worse takes over. That goes in the Middle East and that goes everywhere."
To be sure, the difficult legacies of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan make many Americans wary of the costs and consequences of getting involved in distant places.
"We can only do so much," protests Bob Schuhart, 51, a high-school custodian from Oshkosh, Wis., who was called in the poll. "We can't be everywhere. We can't be a policeman for the whole world. We have to take care of our own, too." He faults former president George W. Bush in particular for leading the nation into war "under false pretenses."
But Schuhart also worries that the world has become "more stressful" during Obama's tenure "because he threatens and says he's going to do something, but he never really backs it up."
The perception that Obama is "not tough enough" is growing. Early in his presidency, in June 2009, a 51 percent majority of Americans called his approach on national security issues "about right." Now a 54 percent majority doubt his toughness, including a significant share of traditional supporters: one-third of Democrats, four in 10 African Americans and just over half of women.
A generation after the euphoria over the end of the Cold War, and 13 years after the trauma of the Sept. 11 attacks, Americans once again see the world as increasingly perilous. Two-thirds of those surveyed, 65 percent, say we live in a more dangerous world than several years ago; just 7 percent call it a safer one.
Comment: For a broad overview of what this implies see: Global Pathocracy, Authoritarian Followers and the Hope of the World
Polls are often taken in demographic areas that clearly will support a consensus desired by the pollsters. They often poll in rural areas where the elderly still have land lines and believe every bit of propaganda fed to them on mainstream media. Initial questions used by the pollster would include something like, "Do you believe Bashar al Assad should be held acceptable for gassing his own people with sarin gas?" even though a team from MIT and the U.N. both reported that the sarin was delivered by U.S. backed FSA rebels.