The vast majority of the U.S. public appears to
have grown thoroughly disillusioned with President George W. Bush's crusade
to spread democracy abroad, according to a new survey by one of the country's
premier public opinion analysts.
The survey, designed by Daniel Yankelovich, also found that public concern
about U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources has skyrocketed in recent months,
and has now joined Iraq as the kind of foreign policy issue that can do serious
harm to politicians if they are seen as failing to respond effectively to the
"The oil-dependency issue now meets all the criteria for having reached
the tipping point: an overwhelming majority expresses concern about the issue,
the intensity of the public's unease has reached significant levels, and the
public believes the government is capable of addressing the issue far more effectively
than it has until now," wrote
Yankelovich in an analysis of the survey results in the latest edition of
Foreign Affairs released here Thursday.
"Should the price of gasoline drop over the coming months, this issue
may temporarily lose some of its political weight. But with supplies of oil
tight and geopolitical tensions high, public pressure is likely to grow,"
The survey, the second in a semi-annual series called "Confidence in U.S.
Foreign Policy Index," was based on interviews with 1,000 randomly selected
adults in mid-January. The interviews included more than 110 questions designed
to probe respondents' views of the U.S. role in the world and their confidence
in how Washington was addressing some two dozen foreign policy issues.
The news for the Bush administration is not good. Compared to the previous
Index survey last June, the latest survey showed no improvement in most areas
and significant declines in several key areas, including energy, Iraq, Afghanistan,
global warming, democracy-promotion, and immigration.
It also found skepticism about the administration's own credibility. Half of
the public doesn't think it has been truthful about why the U.S. invaded Iraq,
and 51 percent said they trusted the government "not too much" or
"not at all" to tell the truth about relations with other countries.
In an echo of other polls taken over the past year, the latest survey, which
was sponsored by Public Agenda, an independent group headed by Yankelovich,
found deep skepticism about the administration's efforts to spread democracy
abroad, a theme that Bush himself returned to Wednesday in a major policy address
to the neoconservative Freedom House here Wednesday.
"In this new century, the advance of freedom is a vital element of our
strategy to protect the American people, and to secure the peace for generations
to come," Bush said. "We're fighting the terrorists across the world
because we know that if America were not fighting this enemy in other lands,
we'd be facing them here in our own land
[and] one of the greatest forces
for freedom in the history of the world is the United States armed forces."
"In this young century, the doubters are still with us; but so is the
unstoppable power of freedom. In Afghanistan and Iraq and other nations, that
power is replacing tyranny with hope, and no one should bet against it."
However, given 11 foreign-policy objectives, respondents ranked "actively
creating democracies in other countries" dead last. Only 20 percent of
respondents said they considered that aim to be a "very important"
goal of U.S. foreign policy, far below the 70 percent of respondents who placed
"cooperating with other countries" on global problems like the environment
and combating diseases in the "very important" category. Only 22 percent
of respondents voiced confidence that Washington would succeed in its efforts
to plant democracy in Iraq.
"Americans are quite skeptical about the goal of promoting democracy,"
said Yankelovich in a conference call briefing Wednesday. "People feel
it's a desirable goal, but, from a commonsense point of view, both Republicans
and Democrats have come to the conclusion that democracy is something that countries
can only come to on their own."
Indeed, support for the administration's democracy crusade fell most sharply
among Republicans, particularly those identified with the Christian Right, over
the past six months, according to Yankelovich's article in Foreign Affairs,
which is published by the influential Council on Foreign Relations.
The magazine's managing editor, Gideon Rose, said that finding appeared to
signal the movement by one of Bush's core constituencies toward mainstream opinion.
"[A]lthough these people continue to maintain a high level of trust in
the president and his administration, their support for the government's Iraq
policy and for the policy of exporting democracy has cooled," according
Of all major foreign policy issues, Iraq was found in last June's survey to
be the only one to have reached a "tipping point," that is, an issue
where politicians and policymakers ignore public opinion and particularly
public dissatisfaction at their peril.
According to Yankelovich, a tipping point is reached when the vast majority
of the public says they are concerned about an issue, with more than 50 percent
insisting that they are concerned "a lot," and when majorities believe
that the government can do something about the problem.
The latest survey found Iraq continues to be at such a tipping point. If anything,
public attitudes have soured further over the past six months, with the proportion
of the public giving Bush a failing grade in achieving its goals there rising
markedly from 10 percent to 23 percent over that period.
But, according to Yankelovich, Washington's dependence on foreign oil and gas
and its impact on national security have also soared over the last six months
to tipping-point status, no doubt as a result of rising gasoline prices. The
portion of those who "worry a lot" about the problem increased from
42 percent to 55 percent, putting it at the top of the Index' "worry scale"
of 18 foreign-policy issues.
At the same time, 50 percent of the public believes that the government has
the power to do something about the problem. That contrasts with other anxiety-producing
problems, such as global warming and outsourcing of U.S. jobs, about which most
respondents believe the government can do relatively little.
Respondents, moreover, gave the government very poor marks on dealing with
the issue. Nearly half (46 percent) gave it a "D" or "F."
"When issues like energy dependence really strike at peoples' daily living
and combine with the perception that the government can do something about it
but isn't, that is when we start to see increasing pressure to change direction,"
In his State of the Union Address at the end of January just after the
survey's interviews concluded Bush showcased several proposals to reduce
Washington's dependence on Middle East oil in particular, an initiative probably
taken as a result of the White House's own polling, according to Yankelovich.
But those proposals have been depicted in the media as generally insufficient
to seriously address the problem.
(Inter Press Service)