Americans Are Becoming Less Isolationist, Polling Finds

A new survey finds rising support for free trade, immigration and an active role in world affairs.
President Donald Trump meets with world leaders during the G-7 Leaders Summit in La Malbaie, Quebec, on June 9.
President Donald Trump meets with world leaders during the G-7 Leaders Summit in La Malbaie, Quebec, on June 9.
Jesco Denzel/German Federal Government via Associated Press

Americans’ appetite for anti-globalist rhetoric appears to be on the wane, a new survey finds.

A 2016 HuffPost/YouGov poll, taken just after the U.K.’s vote for Brexit, found support for a similar set of isolationist attitudes percolating in the U.S. Nearly half the public agreed that the U.S. should step back from world affairs, and said that the inflow of newcomers from other countries “threatens traditional American customs and values.”

Two and a half years later, there’s been distinct movement away from both those ideas, coupled with increasing support for free trade ― all, to some extent, a repudiation of White House talking points. The share of American public that believes the country should pay less attention to overseas issues has decreased from 49 to 39 percent, and the share who are unhappy with free trade agreements from 29 percent to 21 percent. Most starkly, the percentage of Americans who say they feel the nation’s values are threatened by newcomers fell from 48 percent in 2016 to just 36 percent today.

In the time since President Donald Trump took office, Democrats have consolidated against his positions on a number of issues, becoming more solidly liberal on everything from immigration policy to race relations. That’s true here as well. Democrats, who were evenly split in their attitude toward foreign relations in 2016, now say by a 26-point margin that the U.S. should be active in world affairs. In 2016, members of the party said by a 30-point margin that newcomers strengthen American society, a gap that has since doubled to 60 points.

But it’s not solely Democrats who are responsible for the shifts in opinion, the survey finds. Independents have become less pronounced in their preference to concentrate on domestic affairs and more willing to view immigrants as an asset to society.

On free trade, the biggest change is actually among Republicans. In 2016, members of the GOP said by a 12-percentage-point margin that free trade deals were bad for the U.S. Now they say, by a 20-point margin, that such agreements are generally good ― movement that may, in their case, suggest approval for Trump’s effort to renegotiate trade deals.

And Americans across the political spectrum have warmed in their attitude toward immigration: Although Republicans still say by a 46-point margin that the number of newcomers to the country threatens U.S. values, that’s down from 58 points in the previous survey.

The results join a growing body of evidence that public sentiment in the Trump era has swung away from nativism. The belief that immigration hurts the U.S. is at a low ebb since at least 2006, according to NBC/Wall Street Journal polling. Support for free trade appears to have grown.

Meanwhile, polling in the U.K. suggests that support for Brexit has begun to decline after the fact. One aggregator estimates that the U.K. now supports Remain by an approximate 8-point margin, up from a dead heat two years prior; another finds support for Remain outstripping backing for Leave by about 6 points. American opinions on Brexit itself, perhaps unsurprisingly, have undergone less dramatic change, since barely a quarter of the U.S. public says they’ve heard a lot about the latest developments happening across the Atlantic Ocean. In the latest HuffPost/YouGov survey, the biggest shift is that Americans are even less likely than before to have an opinion on the subject.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Dec. 10-12 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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