A slender 9 percent of Americans say President Obama should focus on foreign policy, while 81 percent prefer a domestic focus, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Monday. It’s the most lopsided result in 15 years of Pew polls, underscoring that no matter the financial troubles in Europe or diplomatic skirmishes with Iran, Americans’ first priority is dealing with problems on the home front.
It’s no surprise, then, that Obama spent only six minutes of his hour-long State of the Union speech addressing foreign policy issue (See the Post’s neat graphic breaking down the speech by topic). In a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week, about half of Americans volunteered jobs and the economy as the most important election issue in 2012, fewer than one in 20 named international issues. Two percent named terrorism and illegal immigration alike.
Not all foreign policy issues are seen as unimportant. Asked individually, nearly seven in 10 (69 percent) in the Pew poll say terrorism is a “top priority” for Obama and Congress this year, though that’s down 11 points in the past five years. But fewer than four in 10 name illegal immigration, “strengthening the U.S. military” or global trade as key priorities for the president. Global warming ranks lowest on the list of 22 issues with a quarter calling it a top priority.
Of course, unexpected international crises can rise to the forefront of political debates (i.e. Arab spring uprisings in 2012). We noted last week that Iran may be such a sleeper issue, as Americans are broadly concerned with the possibility they will acquire a nuclear weapon. Nearly three in 10 Americans (28 percent) now say Iran represents the “greatest danger” to the United States in the new Pew poll, topping China (22 percent) and more than double the number who said this in 2011 (12 percent).
Gingrich the diplomat — Newt Gingrich is catching up to Mitt Romney in Florida according to a poll from Quinnipiac University released Wednesday, and the poll also shows that Gingrich holds a 2 to 1 advantage among likely GOP voters on foreign affairs. Fully 53 percent of likely voters in next Tuesday’s primary say Gingrich would do the best job on foreign policy, while 26 percent pick Romney. It’s his biggest advantage over Romney across 11 issues and attributes tested in the survey, and a strength for Gingrich that initially appeared in November polls.
As noted above, international issues appear to be on the back burner for many voters, with the economy dominating many debates. In Florida, Romney holds a wide advantage over Gingrich in trust to handle the economy.