Americans Want to Turn Away from World’s Problems

[….] Nearly three years after the enthusiasm surrounding the wave of revolutions known as the Arab Spring, 63 percent of the polled Americans say stable governments are more important in the region, even if there is less democracy. Fewer chose stability over democracy earlier – 52 percent in 2011 and 54 percent in 2012. Just 28 percent say democracy is more important than stability in the Middle East. While the balance of opinion among all partisan groups is in favor of stable governments, Democrats are more likely than Republicans and independents to endorse democracy over stability; 39 percent of Democrats say democratic governments are more important, compared with 25 percent of Republicans and 23 percent of Tea Party sympathizers.

American foreign policy experts, at least those who belong to the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan membership organization and think tank specializing in US foreign policy, are generally no more committed than the public to strengthening the United Nations, improving living standards in developing countries, or promoting human rights and democracy.

Just 17 percent of CFR members say bolstering the UN should be a top foreign policy priority of the policy experts surveyed say promoting democracy in other nations is a major priority for American foreign policy, compared with 44 percent in 2001.

Most CFR members, like the general public, prioritize stability over democracy in the Middle East: 64 percent say stable governments are more important, even if there is less democracy in the region, while 32 percent say democratic governments are more important, even if there is less stability.

And foreign policy experts are reluctant to see the United States become more deeply involved in changes in political leadership in the region. Just 24 percent say the US should be more involved in changes in political leadership in Middle East countries such as Egypt or Libya. This may be, in part, because CFR members are pessimistic about the potential for increased democracy in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

CFR members, like the American public, view improving living standards in developing countries, at 25 percent, and the promotion of human rights, at 19 percent, as lower foreign policy priorities. Bolstering the economies of developing countries is viewed as a less important long-range policy than in previous Pew Research Center surveys. Just 25 percent of CFR members say it should be a top priority, as compared with 48 percent in 2001 and 47 percent in 2005.

Just 19 percent of CFR members see the promotion of human rights as a top policy goal. These opinions are little changed from recent years, but in 2001, shortly before the 9/11 attacks, 43 percent rated human rights as a top policy priority.

Americans have long prided themselves as a benevolent society, a nation committed to working with others through a foreign policy rooted in fundamental values of democracy and human liberty. And other nations have looked to the United States to be a promoter of development, democracy and human rights. But in the wake of two costly wars and a prolonged economic slowdown, the American people and foreign policy elites are less committed to those ideals than they have been for some time.

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