Misreading the Public: The Myth of a New Isolationism

By Steven Kull; I. M. Destler | Go to book overview
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8
How the Public Makes Budgetary Trade-Offs

In workshops, some participants did not contest the idea that the majority of Americans embrace an internationally engaged U.S. foreign policy in principle. However, in practice, they argued, Americans are not really ready to spend the necessary money when faced with making trade-offs against domestic priorities. Thus when members of Congress devise the federal budget and cut international spending in favor of domestic items, they are doing what members of the public would do if they were faced with the same situation.

A workshop participant explained how it is appropriate for Congress to ignore poll findings that ask general questions on international engagement and focus instead on poll findings that show a preference for domestic spending: "The message . . . that Congress is getting is not different from the message the polls show, because what Congress is interested in is the trade-offs. They're not interested in . . . abstract notions of, do you think this is good? They're interested in specific trade-offs of where we're going to spend money. And then the polls show, consistently . . . [that they should] spend it on domestic [items]."

As discussed in chapter 2, public opinion surveys offer apparent support for this view. When asked a simple either-or question, strong majorities of Americans will choose spending money on problems at home over

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