Part of the decline is due to Trump’s egregious mishandling of the coronavirus. Only 15 percent of respondents give the United States good marks on the pandemic. China’s handling of the pandemic is more than twice as popular, even though that’s where the virus originated. Trump himself is intensely unpopular — more so even than Russia’s Vladimir Putin or China’s Xi Jinping. Eighty-three percent of respondents in U.S. allies have no confidence in America’s president. Only 16 percent trust him to do what is right in world affairs. In short, Trump has turned the United States into a global pariah.
A new survey out Thursday from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs offers some heartening news by showing that most Americans reject Trump’s isolationist, protectionist policies. Sixty-two percent say that the lesson of covid-19 is that we need to “coordinate and collaborate with other countries to solve global issues.” Sixty-eight percent say it would be better “for the future of the country if we take an active part in world affairs.” Sixty-five percent say that globalization is “mostly good” for the United States.
But while the majority of the public is in favor of free trade, alliances and international leadership — the traditional pillars of America’s post-1945 foreign policy — Republicans have turned more negative on all of these policies under Trump’s pernicious influence. The percentage of Republicans who support globalization has dropped from 62 percent in 2014 to 55 percent. Now 58 percent of Republicans say that America needs to be self-sufficient; only 18 percent of Democrats agree. Republican support for NATO (60 percent) is 25 percentage points lower than among Democrats (85 percent); that’s the lowest level of GOP support since the question was first asked in 1974. Less than half of Republicans support defending NATO allies such as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia from a Russian invasion and a slight majority approve of Trump’s troop cuts in Germany. A third want even steeper troop withdrawals.
Partisan differences are especially stark when respondents were asked about critical threats to the United States. Seventy-five percent of Democrats cited climate change vs. 21 percent of Republicans. Fifty-seven percent of Democrats cited Russian power vs. 40 percent of Republicans. And only 13 percent of Democrats cited “large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the U.S.” vs. 61 percent of Republicans.
Democrats want to address the United States’ internal problems and take an internationalist approach to foreign policy. Republicans favor a nationalist, unilateralist approach while denying that America needs to address serious flaws such as racial or income inequality. Eighty percent of Republicans say that the United States is “the greatest country in the world,” compared to only 35 percent of Democrats, down from 60 percent in 2014.
I’m not overly concerned about Republicans’ Pollyanna-ish pride in America, exaggerated though it may be at this low point in our history. What I am alarmed about is that three times as many Republicans say that immigration is a critical threat (the question did not specify illegal immigration) than say the same of global warming. I am also concerned that Republicans are far more friendly toward Russia, and far more hostile to NATO, than they used to be. The Trump influence is clear — and it will outlast his presidency.
The good news buried in the findings is that a significant number of Republicans haven’t adopted the “America First” mind-set: Roughly 40 percent still see Russia as a critical threat and 60 percent still support NATO despite Trump’s incessant praise for Putin and criticism of our allies. Most independents are closer to the Democrats than they are Republicans on foreign policy. This suggests that, if Joe Biden is elected, he has the potential to pursue an internationalist foreign policy that will win overwhelming support from the general public, if not from a significant number of Republicans.