Cycles in American Foreign Policy Opinion
For at least the past century, American attitudes toward foreign policy have shifted periodically between generally interventionist and generally noninterventionist postures. There have been attitude differences between the general public, attentive public and leaders. Besides variations from, for example, socioeconomic and ethnic divisions, there have also been differences among elite groups such as policymakers, journalists, military personnel, academics, and international business people over the role the United States should play in foreign affairs. Although Americans do not express unified opinions on foreign policy questions, public opinion has been characterized by identifiable swings between the two poles of isolationism and internationalism.
Alternations between isolationist and internationalist approaches have typically characterized American foreign policy since the nineteenth century (Foster, 1983; Holmes, 1985; Klingberg, 1983). Periods of about twenty-seven years of “extroversion” during which the United States has expanded and extended its influence have been followed by periods of about twenty-one years of “introversion” in which the country has addressed the results of previous involvement (Klingberg, 1983). Events mark the transitions between these periods, while public opinion defines the periods. This chapter identifies how these tendencies have played out during the twentieth century. Each phase of extroversion in American history tends to occur at a higher level of world involvement than the previous state of introversion (Klingberg, 1983). As time progresses, the differences between extroversion and introversion lessen.
For the twentieth century, periods of extroversion and introversion may be summarized in roughly five alternating periods (see Table 3.1). A brief review of the periods since polling began illuminates the plausibility of the alternations and periodization of the attitudes regarding foreign policy.
Since the advent of polling in the 1930s, it has been possible to track isolationist and internationalist trends in public opinion on U.S. involvement abroad. Introversion or noninternationalism describes, for instance, the withdrawing mood more specifically