Benjamin Valentino (Dartmouth) released a poll on what Americans think about US foreign policy. The margin of error is +/- 3.18%. A few snap reactions. (Make fun of polls and contradictions all you want.)
One common trope about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that most Americans live their lives unaware of or untouched by the wars. Yet 34.4% “have a close friend or family member serving” in the regular military, Reserve, or National Guard. (Question 5) That does not mean all have served in a war zone but it tells us something about the degrees of separation. And while that also means almost two-thirds have no family or close friend, one-third was higher than I would have expected given the claim. (I wonder what the number would look like if you added non-close friends.)
Given all the discussions about Egypt and tensions in US policy between strategic interests and human rights, people favored the latter when given the choice. Almost 48% agreed the US should “demand all nations respect human rights even if that means hurting our relationships with strategically and economically important countries.” About 29% went the other way, while 23% chose “don’t know.” (Q11)
Support for generic military intervention is pretty strong, especially given that 60.5% agree that, “America’s experiences in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate that America’s leaders have failed to learn the lessons of Vietnam.” (Q15) Yet must the US “sometimes use military force to remove foreign leaders or governments from power”? 54% agree while about 22% disagree. (Q16)
I think threat inflation is alive and well. Agree or disagree: “The United States faces greater threats to its security today than it did during the Cold War.” (Q25) Over 63% strongly or somewhat agree.* Look, to me, a US-Soviet global thermonuclear war was more threatening. In the Cold War, we had crises that could have spun out of control. (Hello, almost 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missiles Crisis) I’m not buyin’ on this one. But it probably leads to strong support (50%) for keeping “a strong military presence in the Middle East to prevent terrorist attacks against the United States homeland.” (Q45; Another quarter neither agree nor disagree with the statement while only one-quarter disagree.)
Not to mention that over two-thirds think Iran is very or somewhat likely to use a nuclear weapon against Israel if Iran gets such a weapon. (Q46)
The US depends on Israel, a majority believe, to protect vital interests. But 61% also think, “Current U.S. military, economic and political support for Israel angers many Muslims and makes terrorist attacks against the United States and our interests more likely.”
Party affiliation matters. While 40-44% of Democrats and Independents favor the idea that “Terrorists attack the United States mostly because they hate America’s values” – rather than due to US policies – 71% of Republicans agree. (Q19)(For other examples, see Q37-38, 42, 46, 49, 55) More than one-third of Democrats and Independents think “pro-Israel lobby groups” have too much influence, but only 13.5% in the GOP column agree. (Q52)
Some questions just make you bug out. “Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded in 2003.” Only 43% of Americans believe this is “Not true.” What? 63% of GOP polled believe this statement is true. (Q63) I am not talking about what people believed in 2002-03. The survey asked in 2012. Sorry, there were no WMD in Iraq. Or why not close with this one: “I have always believed President Obama was born in another country.” (Q64) GOP respondents who chose this as the best answer: 55%.
*Maybe too many people believe in MAD. (Q59) Maybe that is why.