In the first few chapters of this book we documented a persistent gap between what policy practitioners think about public opinion and the picture of public opinion painted by systematic surveys. The policy community speaks of citizens turning inward, becoming isolationist; the surveys portray a public that recognizes the need for U.S. engagement in the world, particularly in cooperation with other nations. This gap is wide on the broad issue of engagement-- whether the nation should play an active role in the world, and what that role should be. It is equally wide on specific issues involving the United Nations, foreign aid, and defense spending.
To explore the reasons for this gap, we invited policy practitioners to challenge the relevance of broad survey findings and to suggest lines of questioning that might reveal the underlying public drive toward disengagement they believed to exist. These practitioners put forward a number of plausible challenges, which we tested with innovative survey questions. The results (summarized in chapters 7 to 9) did shed some light on public attitudes. But for the most part the challenges were not sustained by the survey tests that we employed. The results suggest that it is the practitioners, not the polls, that have misread the public.
Why have U.S. policy practitioners come to believe Americans want to withdraw from the world? Why have they persisted in believing this despite