Preventing Terrorism and Securing Energy Supplies Top Americans' Foreign Policy Concerns

by Lydia Saad

Building democracy abroad ranks last among nine possible goals

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Anti-war protests around the world last weekend included a heavy dose of skepticism about the U.S. government's motives for a possible war with Iraq, with many charging that the effort is more about advancing U.S. oil interests there than about defending against weapons of mass destruction. More broadly, the Iraq controversy has renewed attention to the priorities that shape U.S. foreign policy, whether in war or peace.

According to Gallup's annual World Affairs poll, conducted Feb. 3-6, the vast majority of Americans believe that preventing future acts of international terrorism and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction are very important foreign policy goals for the United States. But ranking third on the list of nine possible goals presented in the survey -- with 68% of Americans rating it as "very important" -- is securing adequate supplies of energy. This does not mean that Americans would necessarily favor an unprovoked attack on Iraq or any other oil-producing country, but it does suggest that, coupled with national security concerns, Iraq's possession of an important oil supply could be a factor strengthening public support for the war.

Securing adequate supplies of energy is of somewhat higher perceived importance to the public than is defending U.S. allies (which 60% rate as a very important goal), maintaining superior military power worldwide (56%), and promoting and defending human rights abroad (50%). Concern about energy far exceeds concern for protecting weaker nations against foreign aggression (40%) and helping to improve the standard of living in less-developed countries (35%).

Perceived Importance of Possible U.S. Foreign Policy Goals

% rated "very important"

Feb. 3-6, 2003

%

1. Preventing future acts of international terrorism

87

2. Preventing spread of weapons of mass destruction

82

3. Securing adequate supplies of energy

68

4. Defending our allies' security

60

5. Maintaining superior military power worldwide

56

6. Promoting and defending human rights in other countries

50

7. Protecting weaker nations against foreign aggression

40

8. Improving the standard of living of less-developed nations

35

9. Building democracy in other countries

29

All of the goals asked about in the survey are considered at least "somewhat important" by a majority of respondents. The maximum number rating any of these as "not too important" or "not at all important" is just 22%, and was measured on the goal for building democracy in other countries.

Next, I'm going to read a list of possible foreign policy goals that the United States might have. For each one please say whether you think it should be a very important foreign policy goal of the United States, a somewhat important goal, not too important a goal, or not an important goal at all.

 

Very/
somewhat important

Not too/
Not at all important

%

%

Preventing future acts of international terrorism

97

2

Preventing spread of weapons of mass destruction

95

4

Securing adequate supplies of energy

91

6

Defending our allies' security

94

4

Maintaining superior military power worldwide

83

15

Promoting and defending human rights in other countries

86

12

Protecting weaker nations against foreign aggression

88

10

Improving the standard of living of less-developed nations

82

16

Building democracy in other countries

75

22

Republicans and Democrats Mostly Agree on Goals

Although there are differences in the percentages of Republicans and Democrats rating certain goals as very important, the ranking of the nine goals is essentially the same for both groups.

The largest gap is observed on the importance of maintaining superior military power worldwide. Two-thirds of Republicans (66%) compared with only a bare majority of Democrats (51%) consider this very important. By a 10-point margin, Democrats are also less likely than Republicans to consider the prevention of the spread of weapons of mass destruction to be a critical goal.

The two goals which Democrats are more likely than Republicans to consider very important both have an altruistic orientation: helping to improve the standard of living of less-developed nations and defending human rights abroad.

Partisan Rating of Foreign Policy Goals

February 2003

 

Republicans

Democrats

Difference

(Rep minus Dem)

%

%

Maintaining superior military power

66

51

15

Preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction

87

77

10

Preventing future terrorism

92

84

8

Defending allies' security

63

57

6

Securing adequate supplies of energy

70

66

4

Building democracy in other countries

32

29

3

Protecting weaker nations against foreign aggression

40

38

2

Promoting and defending human rights

46

51

-5

Improving standard of living of less-developed nations

30

38

-8

Energy of Somewhat Less Concern Today Than Two Years Ago

While the importance of U.S. access to energy remains a high priority for Americans, it is seen as somewhat less important today than when Gallup last polled on this issue two years ago. In February 2001, 79% of Americans considered securing adequate energy supplies to be a very important goal. That figure is 11 points higher than today. However, the 2001 survey was taken amid the West Coast energy crisis (recall the rolling blackouts in California), and during a period of escalating gas prices at the pump nationally, and thus most likely reflected the public's heightened energy concerns at that point. Given that the decline from 2001 to 2003 occurred about evenly among Republicans, independents, and Democrats, it is unlikely that the drop is tied to the current politics of the debate over attacking Iraq (which a majority of Republicans favor, and Democrats oppose).

The only other significant trend in the ratings of foreign policy goals is a slight decline, from 40% in 2001 to 35% today, in the perceived importance of "helping to improve the standard of living of less-developed nations."

Next, I'm going to read a list of possible foreign policy goals that the United States might have. For each one please say whether you think it should be a very important foreign policy goal of the United States, a somewhat important goal, not too important a goal, or not an important goal at all.

 

2001

2003

%

%

1. Preventing future terrorism

--

87

2. Preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction

82

82

3. Securing adequate supplies of energy

79

68

4. Defending allies' security

62

60

5. Maintaining superior military power

59

56

6. Promoting and defending human rights

51

50

7. Protecting weaker nations against foreign aggression

39

40

8. Improving standard of living of less-developed nations

40

35

9. Building democracy in other countries

32

29

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,001 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 3-6, 2003. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±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.

Next, I'm going to read a list of possible foreign policy goals that the United States might have. For each one please say whether you think it should be a very important foreign policy goal of the United States, a somewhat important goal, not too important a goal, or not an important goal at all. How about -- [ITEMS A-H ROTATED, THEN ITEM I READ]?

A. Maintaining superior military power worldwide

 

Very important

Somewhat important

Not too important

Not important
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Feb 3-6

56

27

11

4

2

2001 Feb 1-4

59

29

9

2

1



B. Defending our allies' security

 

Very important

Somewhat important

Not too important

Not important
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Feb 3-6

60

34

3

1

2

2001 Feb 1-4

62

33

3

1

1



C. Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction

 

Very important

Somewhat important

Not too important

Not important
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Feb 3-6

82

13

2

2

1

2001 Feb 1-4

82

14

1

2

1



D. Securing adequate supplies of energy

 

Very important

Somewhat important

Not too important

Not important
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Feb 3-6

68

23

4

2

3

2001 Feb 1-4

79

17

2

1

1



E. Building democracy in other countries

 

Very important

Somewhat important

Not too important

Not important at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Feb 3-6

29

46

17

5

3

2001 Feb 1-4

32

46

16

5

1



F. Protecting weaker nations against foreign aggression

 

Very important

Somewhat important

Not too important

Not important
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Feb 3-6

40

48

8

2

2

2001 Feb 1-4

39

50

7

3

1



G. Promoting and defending human rights in other countries

 

Very important

Somewhat important

Not too important

Not important
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Feb 3-6

50

36

9

3

2

2001 Feb 1-4

51

36

10

2

1



H. Helping to improve the standard of living of less-developed nations

 

Very important

Somewhat important

Not too important

Not important
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Feb 3-6

35

47

12

4

2

2001 Feb 1-4

40

45

11

3

1



I. Preventing future acts of international terrorism

 

Very important

Somewhat important

Not too important

Not important
at all

No
opinion

2003 Feb 3-6

87%

10

1

1

1



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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/7840/Preventing-Terrorism-Securing-Energy-Supplies-Top-Americans-Forei.aspx
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