Republicans, Democrats Agree on Top Foreign Policy Goals

Republicans, Democrats Agree on Top Foreign Policy Goals

by Lydia Saad

Partisans disagree most on importance of working to achieve world cooperation

PRINCETON, NJ -- Republicans and Democrats broadly agree that goals related to defending U.S. national security interests and securing adequate energy supplies are paramount among nine possible U.S. foreign policy goals Gallup recently tested. However, partisans differ on the relative importance for the U.S. of promoting democracy, human rights, and international cooperation.

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Gallup measured Americans' support for nine major foreign policy objectives in this year's World Affairs survey, conducted Feb. 7-10. While at least seven in 10 Americans consider each objective at least somewhat important, the percentage rating each "very important" ranges from 31% to 88%.

A similar range of support for the nine goals is seen among Republicans, independents, and Democrats, although the two major party groups differ significantly in the rank order of the lower importance goals. The total rank order among independents comes close to that of Americans overall.

Global Cooperation a Higher Priority for Democrats Than Republicans

The goal of promoting favorable trade policies in foreign markets ranks or ties for fourth among all party groups -- after preventing future acts of international terrorism, preventing the spread of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction, and securing adequate supplies of energy for the country -- with roughly two-thirds calling this very important.

The greatest substantive difference between the two major parties is over the importance of working through the United Nations and other organizations to achieve global cooperation. Three-fourths of Democrats (75%) versus fewer than half of Republicans (42%) say this ought to be a very important U.S. foreign policy goal -- a 33 percentage-point difference. Additionally, Gallup finds a 20-point gap in the importance Democrats and Republicans attach to promoting human rights in other countries, 64% and 44%, respectively. Democrats also put greater emphasis than Republicans on promoting economic development in other countries. Republicans, on the other hand, are more likely than Democrats to say defending U.S. allies' security is highly important (70% vs. 57%).

Given these differences, working with the U.N. to promote worldwide cooperation ranks fourth among Democrats, compared with seventh among Republicans. Defending the security of U.S. allies comes in fourth place among Republicans but seventh among Democrats.

Although roughly equal percentages of Republicans and Democrats rate democracy building as a very important goal, it ranks eighth among Republicans versus ninth among Democrats.

Bottom Line

When assigning importance to various U.S. foreign policy objectives, Americans put the greatest emphasis on U.S. national security, energy procurement, and favorable trade policies. Rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats agree on these as the nation's top foreign policy priorities.

At the same time, Democrats put relatively more emphasis than do Republicans on working through organizations like the U.N. toward global cooperation as well as on promoting human rights and economic development abroad. Republicans put relatively more emphasis than do Democrats on defending U.S. allies' security.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 7-10, 2013, with a random sample of 1,015 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphones numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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