A new study finds that 68% of Americans believe that the U.S. should take an active role in world affairs. This is down slightly from two years ago, but it’s one of the highest readings in the study’s 46-year history—though Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to advocate for a nationalist, America-first approach. (The Chicago Council on Global Affairs)
NH: As I pointed out in my show last week with JT Taylor on the 2020 election, Americans this year absolutely believe that the two candidates differ on the issues. And that's new. Back in 2000 (Bush Jr. versus Al Gore), only 51% said the two candidates differed on the issues; 33% said they didn't.
This year, 86% of Americans believe the two candidates are really different. Only 8% disagreed. (See "Around The States In 50 Days".)
According to the survey from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, this perception of difference extends to foreign policy. One example would be the lessons to be learned from the current Covid-19 pandemic. Republicans think that America should be self-sufficient so that we don't need to depend on other countries. Democrats think that America should collaborate more with other countries to solve global problems.
Another example would be American exceptionalism. Republicans continue to believe that America is the "greatest country in the world." Democrats, increasingly, beg to differ. Still another example would be feelings about whether economic globalization is good or bad for the United States.
Increasingly, Republicans say bad. Increasingly, Democrats say good.
The Council's report concludes: “In November, voters will not only decide who will become the next U.S. president, but also they will help determine the path U.S. foreign policy takes — either working in partnership with the international community or moving toward a greater degree of national self-reliance.” According to the WP, this report "underscores the degree to which these conflicting views set up a stark choice in the November election."
True enough. But IMO these contrasts are prone to the exaggerated self-branding of each party. Needless to say, the more President Trump invokes "MAGA," the more Democrats are going to resist agreeing with him.
Yet according to the Council's own numbers, Democrats are as willing as Republicans to place sanctions on China, for example, and are more willing than Republicans to maintain existing alliances. So they clearly believe America has some sort of exceptional role to play.
And as for economic globalization, Democrats only now say they want it because Trump says he doesn't. Hillary Clinton clearly understood that trade liberalization had a negative undertow with her own constituency when she backed away from it during her 2016 primary campaign--and this year we heard next to nothing from any of the Democratic candidates in favor of more world trade.
Bottom line: It's important not to over-characterize contrasts in the foreign-policy instincts of the two parties. Overall, for example, most Americans continue to support "taking an active part in world affairs" as opposed to "pulling out" (68% versus 30%)--a margin that hasn't changed much over the decades. And that includes a majority of Republicans as well as a majority of Democrats.
What has changed--and this is important--is that Republicans used to be out in front of Democrats in insisting that America should not back down from its global responsibilities. Now it's the other way around. Once upon a time, back in the 1970s and 1980s, America's most notable isolationists were left-wing Democrats who feared that America was corrupting the world. In this respect, the advent of Tea-Party populists and Trump really has changed the balance.
Today, America's most notable isolationists are right-wing Republicans who fear that the world is corrupting America.
This changes the likelihood of which party's foreign policy may pull us into war somewhere in the world. Will it be the party that is more enthusiastic about staying engaged with the world and maintaining our treaty obligations? Or the party that is less enthusiastic?
In the current survey, the Council leaves this aspect of America's foreign policy divide unexplored. But another survey taken by the Council in 2018 dared to go there. It asked Americans if they would be willing to go war to defend Estonia (a NATO ally) against invasion by Russia. 61% of Democrats said yes versus 52% of Republicans. (Ian Bremmer's Eurasia Group Foundation asked the same question in 2019 and found the gap had widened.) In several other scenarios, the partisan gap was surprisingly small. In case China invaded Taiwan, 36% of Democrats supported war versus 39% of Republicans.
In general--and this may be more to the point--overall public support for U.S. military intervention in all such scenarios has been rising, not falling, in recent years.
But for anyone old enough to recall the vast partisan gap over military support for Taiwan, these recent trends are eye-opening indeed. And not exactly in the direction that most of us might suppose.
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ABOUT NEIL HOWE
Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.
A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.
Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."
Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.
Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.
Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.