Wednesday, June 15, 2016

AAPOR Panel Probes Foreign Policy Impact on 2016 Election

Foreign policy is going to be a key topic in the 2016 election was the consensus view of a panel of public opinion experts at the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) national conference in Austin, Texas. The view was that the presumptive nominees, the influence of the foreign policy establishment, and the contrasting positions of their core constituents and their respective campaign strategies made foreign policy a prime topic for the conventions, the fall debates and voters’ November decisions.

My lead-off presentation made the following points:
  • Hillary Clinton believes her experience, temperament and positions will win an exchange on the issues. She is using foreign policy to highlight the contrast (see San Diego speech 6-2-16). Donald Trump, recognizing vulnerability but also seeing some advantage in voter preference, will hope to highlight his leadership style and populist views. 
  • Trump has added a host of foreign policy topics to the debate. Many of the subjects, such as alliance and trade policy, haven’t been debate topics in recent elections. Trade and globalization issues are now a part of the debate, with an unknown outcome, but major changes in January 2017 can be expected. 
  • Trump and Clinton have introduced several unexpected positions and interesting left-right shifts, especially on the level of interventionism and support for globalization. 
  • Trump’s challenge is that he is off-the-grid of Republican foreign policy thinking. It’s also an advantage – his constituents like it. They believe they have been harmed by globalization. It allows him to be politically incorrect and attack the Republican establishment. 
  • Republican grassroots opinion corresponds to many Trump views, especially concerning nationalistic and nativist viewpoints. But in general, public opinion has been reacting to, not leading, the debate. One exception was the spike in concern over terrorism after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks in November and December 2015, respectively. 
  • This election will be difficult to predict due to volatility and highly negative aspects of the campaigns and the candidates’ images. Foreign policy will be part of the mix. The issues and positions fought over may not have the same configuration in January 2017 as June 2016. Events and the campaigns may create new positions and divisions.

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