Tuesday 25 Sep 2018 | 06:53 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 25 Sep 2018 | 06:53 | SYDNEY

Americans on the world


Fergus Hanson


16 September 2010 22:21

For anyone interested in the constraints and incentives US policy-makers face, there's a must-read poll out today. It's the Chicago Council's biennial national opinion survey of American attitudes to a very wide range of issues.

There is too much to even summarise in a blog, but the findings present some striking and surprising insights into the collective mind of the American public. These were teased out at a dinner in Washington tonight. Some findings that struck me:

  • 50% of Americans said the ability of terrorists to launch another major attack on the US is the same as it was at the time of the September 11 attacks — even after almost a decade's work to deal with the problem and thousands of American deaths in war.
  • Of 17 possible threats to the US, international terrorism ranked number one, with 73% saying it was a critical threat to US vital interests in the next 10 years.
  • Americans are serious humanitarians and multilateralists — despite the policy debates in Washington: 73% favoured the quite out-there idea of creating an international marshals service that could arrest leaders responsible for genocide; 64% favoured a standing UN peacekeeping force selected, trained and commanded by the UN; and 70% said the US should participate in the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court.
  • On Afghanistan, a quarter (23%) of American adults want most of their combat troops out right away and 44% want most of them out within the next two years. 
  • There is a growing sense that US power and influence is diminishing.
  • There are some nuanced findings on China. It's not front-and-centre of the American mind, but there is a perception that the influence of China and the US will converge (more the result of US influence diminishing than China's rising).
  • While 68% of Americans favoured friendly cooperation with China over working to limit the growth of China's power (28%), a majority (58%) of Americans preferred building up strong relations with traditional allies like South Korea and Japan even if this might diminish relations with China, when the alternative was building a new partnership with China even if this might diminish relations with traditional allies (favoured by 31%).
  • Clash of civilizations': between 2002 and 2010 there was an 18 point increase in the number of Americans agreeing with the statement: 'because Muslim religious, social, and political traditions are incompatible with Western ways, violent conflict between the two civilisations is inevitable'. 45% of adults now agree with this.      

Photo by Flickr user Zach Dishner, used under a Creaive Commons license.