While many in Israel and the Middle East are increasingly lamenting the U.S.'s declining clout in the region, most Americans are quite content with the new direction and believe that "the U.S. should mind its own business," a new poll of Americans' attitudes shows.
Growing numbers of Americans believe that U.S. global power and prestige are in decline. And support for U.S. global engagement, already near a historic low, has fallen further. Americans believe the U.S. does too much to solve world problems, and increasing numbers want the U.S. to "mind its own business internationally" and pay more attention to domestic problems.
These are among the principal findings of "America's Place in the World," a quadrennial survey of foreign policy attitudes conducted in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan membership organization and think tank specializing in U.S. foreign policy.
The survey, conducted between Oct. 30 and Nov. 6 among 2,003 adults, finds that views of U.S. global importance and power have passed a key milestone. For the first time in nearly 40 years, a majority of respondents (53%) say the U.S. plays a less important and powerful role as a world leader than it did a decade ago. The percentage of those who say the U.S. is less powerful than it was a decade ago has more than doubled since 2004, when it stood at just 20%.
An even larger majority says the U.S. is losing respect internationally. Fully 70% say the U.S. is less respected than in the past, nearly the level reached late in former President George W. Bush's second term (71% in May 2008). Early last year, fewer Americans (56%) thought that the U.S. had become less respected globally.
Foreign policy, once a relative strength for President Barack Obama, has become a target of substantial criticism. Just 56% approve of his handling of foreign policy, compared to 34% who disapprove. The public also disapproves of Obama's handling of Syria, Iran, China and Afghanistan by wide margins. On terrorism, however, more approve than disapprove of Obama's job performance (51% to 44%).
The public's skepticism about U.S. international engagement -- evident in "America's Place in the World" surveys four and eight years ago -- has increased. In this year's survey, 52% say the U.S. "should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own." Just 38% disagree with the statement. This is the most lopsided balance in favor of the U.S. "minding its own business" in the nearly 50-year history of the survey.
Following the recent near-miss with U.S. military action against Syria, the NATO mission in Libya and lengthy wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 51% say the U.S. does too much to help solve world problems, while just 17% say it does too little and 28% think it does the right amount. When those who say the U.S. does "too much" internationally are asked to describe in their own words why they feel this way, nearly half (47%) say problems at home, including the economy, should get more attention.
Partisan differences emerged in views on whether Iranian leaders are serious in addressing concerns over the country's nuclear program. Most Republicans (73%) and independents (62%) who have heard at least a little about the nuclear talks say Iranian leaders are not serious in addressing nuclear concerns. Democrats offer more mixed evaluations, with 42% saying Iranian leaders are serious and 48% say they are not.
Iran's nuclear program continues to be one of the top global threats to the U.S. in the public's view. More than two-thirds (68%) say that Iran's nuclear program is a major threat to the well-being of the U.S., a slight change from the 2009 and 2005 surveys.
Views of other long-standing global threats, such as Islamic extremist groups like al-Qaida (viewed by 75% as a major threat), North Korea's nuclear program (68%) and China's emergence as a world power (54%), have also changed little in recent years.