For the first time since 1974, a majority of Americans -- 53 percent -- believe their country wields less power on the global stage than it did a decade ago, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday. The figure is more than double the 2004 measure of 20 percent.
An even larger number of Americans, 70 percent, believe the U.S. is losing respect internationally, which is only 1 percent short of levels reached during former President George W. Bush’s administration in 2008. A majority of all three political groups think that the U.S. is viewed with less respect internationally than it was 10 years ago: 80 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of independents and 56 percent of Democrats.
October’s congressional dysfunction and consequential government shutdown sparked international ridicule of the U.S., contributing to negative perceptions.
"With no political unity to redress its policy mistake, a dysfunctional Washington is now overspending the confidence in its leadership,” an editorial on China's state-run news service Xinhua said in October.
The broad-spectrum Pew poll, a 20-year time series on Americans' perceptions of foreign policy, also found support for international interventionism at a historic low, with 51 percent believing the U.S. does too much in resolving international issues. Seventeen percent think the U.S. intervenes an appropriate amount, while 28 percent believe the U.S. does not do enough.
The poll found that 56 percent disprove of America's handling of foreign policy issues, including Syria, Iran and Afghanistan, with only 34 percent approving.
Fifty-two percent agree that the United States “should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own,” with 38 percent opposing this view. The split reflects the “most lopsided balance in favor of the U.S. ‘minding its own business’ in the nearly 50-year history of the measure,” according to Pew.
Of those who believe the U.S. does “too much” on the global scene, 47 percent cited domestic concerns, particularly the economy, as a more pressing priority.
In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September, President Barack Obama addressed the issue of isolationism.
“The danger for the world is not an America that is too eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries, or to take on every problem in the region as its own,” Obama said. “The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war, rightly concerned about issues back home … may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.”
Despite the opinion that the U.S. meddles too often in other countries' affairs, the survey found that Americans show record-breaking support for greater international engagement in the global economy.
“U.S. participation in the global economy outweighs the risks,” the survey concludes. “And support for closer trade and business ties with other nations stands at its highest point in more than a decade.”
Forty-eight percent of Americans also view China as the world’s leading economic power, with only 31 percent placing the U.S. as the frontrunner.
In line with these concerns, the vast majority of Americans support increased economic international involvement, with 77 percent expressing support for “growing trade and business ties between the United States and other countries.” Only 18 percent oppose a more integrated global economy.
“Support for increased trade and business connections has increased 24 points since 2008, during the economic recession,” according to Pew. Sixty-six percent cite access to new markets and growth opportunities as potential benefits, while only 25 percent view increased engagement as a security threat.
The Pew poll surveyed 2,003 adults from Oct. 30 to Nov. 6, with a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.