Room for Improvement: Americans Give President Mixed Ratings on Foreign Policy

by Jeffrey M. Jones

More Americans support missile defense system than oppose it

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ – President Clinton is currently embarking on what many expect to be his last official trip to Europe. After the president meets with leaders of European nations and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, he concludes his trip in Russia and Ukraine, where he will conduct much-anticipated talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A positive reaction from the American public for these efforts could help boost what has been one of the president's weaker areas in the public's eyes. Currently, President Clinton receives relatively modest ratings from Americans for his handling of foreign policy. Only a bare majority of Americans (51%) in a Gallup poll conducted May 18-21 say they approve of the way Clinton is handling foreign affairs, while 40% disapprove. This number is much lower than the approval rating he receives for his handling of the economy (65%), and is lower than his overall job approval rating of 57%. The president's foreign-policy approval rating is slightly lower than it was a year ago, when 55% indicated their approval.

The Gallup poll also shows that many Americans believe that the president is not well respected by other world leaders. A slight majority (51%) of Americans believe that leaders of other countries "don't have much respect" for Bill Clinton, compared to 44% who believe that other leaders do respect him. This number has not changed substantially since 1994, when Americans were last asked the same question. Not surprisingly, Republicans are much more likely to think that other world leaders disrespect the president (72%) than are independents (52%) or Democrats (32%) in the latest poll.

U.S. Position in the World
Despite the president's modest foreign policy ratings, the poll does show that Americans have some positive views about the country's place in the world. For example, 65% of Americans are satisfied with the position of the United States in the world today, while only 33% are dissatisfied. Also, 56% believe the United States to be the number one military power in the world, while 41% see it as one of several leading powers. However, Americans do not consider the U.S. to be the supreme economic power in the world. Only 39% say the U.S. is the leading economic power, while 60% characterize it as one of several leading economic powers.

Missile Defense System
One of the major topics of conversation with Russian President Putin and the other European leaders is a proposed missile defense system for the United States. President Clinton is attempting to win their support for this initiative, but many have voiced strong reservations about how such a system would affect the current balance of power in the world. Generally, Americans support some type of missile defense system. In a Gallup poll conducted May 23-24, 55% of the public said the U.S. should spend the money to develop a nuclear-missile defense system while 38% say the government should not do so. Support for a missile defense system drops to 48% (with 42% opposition) when Americans are told that such a system may violate existing arms treaties with Russia. Regardless of how the question is posed, Republicans and conservatives are much more likely to favor a missile defense system than are Democrats and liberals.

Survey Methods
The results below are based on telephone interviews with randomly selected national samples of 1,011 adults, 18 years and older, conducted May 18-21, 2000, and 1,032 adults, 18 years and older, conducted May 23-24, 2000. For results based on these samples, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. 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.

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Bill Clinton is handling (random order)? How about ... ?

 

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

%

%

%

A. The economy

2000 May 18-21

65

30

5

1999 Jun 4-5

74

20

6

1999 Apr 26-27

72

22

6

1999 Apr 6-7

73

18

9

1999 Mar 30-31

78

16

6

1999 Mar 19-21

80

12

8

1999 Jan 15-17

81

15

4

1998 Jul 7-8

71

24

5

1998 Jun 22-23

69

24

7

1998 Jun 5-7

71

22

7

1998 Apr 17-19

73

20

7

1998 Jan 25-26

69

25

6

1998 Jan 24-25

70

25

5

1998 Jan 23-24

73

22

5

1997 Nov 21-23

64

28

8

1997 May 6-7

59

33

8

1997 Mar 24-26

57

35

8

1997 Feb 24-26

56

36

8

1996 Nov 21-24

53

36

11

1996 Oct 2-3

57

36

7

1996 Oct 1-2

58

35

7

1996 Aug 23-25

54

40

6

1996 Jun 27-30

49

44

7

1996 Mar 15-17

46

49

5

1996 Jan 12-15

44

52

4

1995 Dec 15-18

47

45

8

1995 Oct 19-22

44

49

7

1995 Jul 20-23

47

46

7

1995 Jul 7-9

41

52

7

1995 Jun 5-6

42

49

9

1995 Feb 3-5

46

49

5

1995 Jan 16-18

47

48

5

1994 Dec 2-5

43

50

7

1994 Nov 2-6

43

51

6

1994 Oct 22-25

42

53

5

1994 Oct 18-19

38

57

5

1994 Sep 23-25

40

55

5



 

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

%

%

%

B. Foreign affairs

2000 May 18-21

51

40

9

 

1999 Jun 4-5

55

40

5

1999 Apr 26-27

50

43

7

1999 Apr 6-7

55

38

7

1999 Mar 30-31

54

40

6

1999 Mar 19-21

60

30

10

1999 Jan 15-17

64

32

4

1998 Jul 7-8

56

34

10

1998 Jun 22-23

53

36

11

1998 Jun 5-7

57

36

7

1998 Apr 17-19

63

31

6

1998 Jan 25-26

62

29

9

1998 Jan 24-25

58

32

10

1998 Jan 23-24

57

34

9

1997 Nov 21-23

55

35

10

1997 May 6-7

50

38

12

1997 Mar 24-26

51

35

14

1997 Feb 24-26

46

34

20

1996 Nov 21-24

54

39

7

1996 Oct 2-3

53

38

9

1996 Oct 1-2

54

36

10

1996 Aug 23-25

53

40

7

1996 Jun 27-30

52

38

10

1996 Mar 15-17

49

45

6

1996 Jan 12-15

48

46

6

1995 Dec 15-18

46

48

6

1995 Oct 19-22

43

44

13

1995 Jul 20-23

37

54

9

1995 Jul 7-9

44

44

12

1995 Jun 5-6

40

51

9

1995 Feb 3-5

44

45

11

1995 Jan 16-18

44

49

7

1994 Dec 2-5

44

46

10

1994 Nov 2-6

49

44

7

1994 Oct 22-25

46

48

6

1994 Oct 18-19

44

50

6

1994 Sep 23-25

40

55

5



Do you think leaders of other countries around the world have respect for Bill Clinton, or do you think they don't have much respect for him?

 

 

Respect him

Don't have much respect for him

No
opinion

       

2000 May 18-21

44%

51

5

       

1994 Sep 23-25

41%

55

5



On the whole, would you say that you are satisfied or dissatisfied with the position of the United States in the world today?

 

 

Satisfied

Dissatisfied

No opinion

       

2000 May 18-21

65%

33

2

       

1966 Sep 8-13

44%

46

10

1965 Aug 5-10

43%

48

8

1962 Jul 18-23

44%

45

12



Do you think the United States is number one in the world militarily, or that it is only one of several leading military powers?

 

 

U.S. is number one

U.S. is one of several leading powers

NEITHER (vol.)

No opinion

         

2000 May 18-21

56%

41

*

3

         

1999 May 7-9

51%

46

1

2

1993 Mar 29-31

63%

34

1

2



Do you think the United States is number one in the world economically, or that it is only one of several leading economic powers?

 

 

U.S. is number one

U.S. is one of several leading powers

NEITHER (vol.)

No opinion

         

2000 May 18-21

39%

60

*

1

         

1999 May 7-9

40%

56

1

3

1993 Mar 29-31

21%

76

*

3



Recently there has been some discussion about the possibility of the United States building a defense system against nuclear missiles. Do you think the government should or should not spend the money that would be necessary to build such a system?

BASED ON -- 507 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A; +/- 5 PCT PTS

 

 

Yes, should

No, should not

No opinion

       

2000 May 23-24

55%

38

7



Some people feel the U.S. should try to develop a ground and space based missile defense system to protect the U.S. from missile attack. Others oppose such an effort because they say it would be too costly and might interfere with existing arms treaties with the Russians. Which position comes closer to your view?

BASED ON -- 525 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B; +/- 5 PCT PTS

 

 

Should develop system

Oppose developing system

No opinion

       

2000 May 23-24

48%

42

10

       

1987 May**

44%

42

14

1986 Dec**

52%

40

8

1985 Aug**

45%

47

8



** Question wording:Some people feel the U.S. should try to develop a space-based "Star Wars" system to protect the U.S. from nuclear attack. Others oppose such an effort because they say it would be too costly and further escalate the arms race. Which position comes closer to your view?

* Less than 0.5%
(vol.) Volunteered response

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