Misreading the Public: The Myth of a New Isolationism

By Steven Kull; I. M. Destler | Go to book overview
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America's Role in Today's, World

On the central question of the nation's role in the world, our study revealed a substantial gap between how policy practitioners perceive public attitudes and the results of public opinion polls and focus groups. The overwhelming majority of practitioners characterized most Americans, in the wake of the cold war, as going through an isolationist phase of wanting the United States to disengage from the world. The dominant view was that Americans are unwilling to make sacrifices in support of collective global concerns and want U.S. foreign policy driven by a narrow definition of the national interest.

Studies of public opinion, however, reveal a public that continues to support an engaged U.S. foreign policy, though the public does want to see the United States move away from its role as dominant world leader and, instead, put much more emphasis on cooperative and multilateral forms of engagement. The majority of the public does show a willingness to make sacrifices in support of collective global concerns and believes U.S. foreign policy should be prompted by an expansive concept of the U.S. national interest that recognizes growing U.S. interdependence with the world.

Polls also show, however, dynamics in American attitudes that can dampen and obscure the public's underlying support for international engagement and may contribute to misperceptions among policymakers. Paramount is a widespread feeling in the public that the United States has

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