Survey shows we want global engagement, but differ on how

  • Keith Peterson

    Keith Peterson

By Keith Peterson
Guest columnist
Posted9/20/2020 1:00 AM

Whether it is health care or domestic violence or even the wearing of masks, the divisions between Republicans and Democrats have been quite stark for some time.

These divisions also extend to ideas about America's role in the world, the threats we face, and such key issues as immigration and trade relations. In its most recent survey of American attitudes, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs lays bare these divisions in a report entitled "Divided We Stand," which was released this week.


In its 46th year of polling, the council surveyed 2,111 Americans, who were asked to self-identify as Democrat, Republican or Independent. The Council found that the respondents overall believed by 68 to 30 percent that America should still "take an active role in world affairs," close to the all-time high in 2002 of 71 to 25 percent.

However, when it comes to the perceived threats facing the country, Democrats and Republicans could not be more different. Choosing the top seven threats, Republicans listed (1) the rise of China, (2) international terrorism, (3) large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming to the U.S., (4) domestic violence, (5) Iran's nuclear program, (6) the global economic downturn, and (7) North Korea's nuclear program.

Democrats on the other hand, listed the COVID-19 Pandemic as No. 1, an issue that did not make the top seven for Republicans. Neither did climate change, which was the Democrat's No. 2 or racial inequality, which was No. 3 or foreign interference in our elections (No. 4). The last three were: economic inequality in the U.S., the global economic downturn, and political polarization in the U.S.

Independents chose three from the GOP list and three from the Democrats' list, but ranked the pandemic as No. 1 and political polarization as No. 2.

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On the pandemic, 80 percent of Democrats said the U.S. should coordinate with other nations to solve global problems, while half as many Republicans (40 percent) agreed with that statement. Conversely, 58 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement that the U.S. should be more self-sufficient so that we don't have to depend on others, while only 18 percent of Democrats agreed.

One of the starker divides was over the question "some say the United States has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world. Others say that every country is unique and the United States is no greater than any other nation. Which view is closer to your own?" Eighty percent of Republicans chose "greatest country in the world," while only 35 percent of Democrats did. Predictably, Independents fell in the middle at 52 percent.

The survey asked in-depth questions about myriad issues and found that a majority of Republicans favored a more muscular approach -- more drone strikes against terrorists, a more confrontational approach with China and more tariffs, and a tougher reaction by law enforcement to domestic unrest. In contrast, Democrats favored more engagement, more cooperation with allies, more international trade and exchanges of students.

The council wrote: "In recent years, commentators have questioned whether the American public is committed to remaining involved in world affairs or whether the country is drifting toward isolationism. But this isn't the most relevant question, as a majority of Americans continue to support global engagement. Rather, the most important question is how the United States should relate to the rest of the world."

Noting the glaring differences between President Trump and former Vice President Biden, the Council concluded that "in November, voters will not only decide who will become the next U.S. President but also they will help determine the path of U.S. foreign policy -- either working in partnership with the international community or moving toward a greater degree of national self-reliance.

• Keith Peterson, of Lake Barrington, served 29 years as a press and cultural officer for the United States Information Agency and Department of State. He was chief editorial writer of the Daily Herald 1984-86.

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