Friday, June 5, 2015

Preview of the Debate

On May 19, 2015, the Crossley Center sponsored the first in its series of programs tracking the 2016 presidential election and its potential impact on American foreign policy. The Crossley Center joined with the Korbel School to present a review of the status of the presidential election and candidates, the foreign policy positions of the leading candidates, and general direction of public opinion on the major foreign policy issues in the Middle East, Cuba, Central Europe and the Far East.

Professor Floyd Ciruli, Director of the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research, joined Former Ambassador Christopher Hill, Dean of the Korbel School, in a panel discussion moderated by Brandon Rittiman, 9News award-winning political reporter.

The PowerPoint used in the presentation can be found here.

The issues reviewed highlight a series of public opinion tensions that are shaping today’s foreign policy debate, including:
  • Foreign policy is growing in importance to the public in the 2016 election, but a majority is still more concerned with the economy and general failures of government. However, events, media coverage and elite conversations continue to keep foreign policy in the public’s awareness.
  • The general view is that America has grown weaker and less respected, and that President Obama is “not tough enough.” But the majority still want the U.S. to mostly focus on domestic problems and not deal with other countries’ problems. Republicans are more concerned with foreign policy than Democrats, and are much more likely to view Obama as weak.
  • Americans believe ISIS is a threat and support current policy, but also believe the policy is not working. They are still reluctant to put “boots on the ground” and very leery of casualties in Iraq.
  • Also, they see Iran’s nuclear ambitions as a threat and prefer negotiations over conflict. But they don’t like the regime or its behavior towards its neighbors. And, they don’t trust Iran to live up to any agreement.
  • Russian behavior is viewed as a threat, but Americans are hesitant to escalate conflict. They want the EU and Germany to handle it. However, the EU and Germany are even less likely to take on Russia.
  • The world perceives China as a leading global power. The U.S. sees it as a serious competitor and is worried about possible conflict. Americans like Japan, but are ambivalent about encouraging its military build-up.
Although public opinion provides many mixed signals, Republican candidates are moving to a more interventionist and militaristic posture. Democratic candidates, for the most part, avoid the issues and blame President G.W. Bush as often as possible. Examining a scatter plot, which estimates the positions of the candidates based on their statements regarding foreign policy, the next president is likely to be more inclined to intervene and more likely to use force than President Obama, but, of course, governing is different than campaigning.

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