April 1, 2014

Americans: Disengaged, feeling less respected, but still see U.S. as world’s military superpower

Majority of Americans Say U.S. Should Mind Its Own Business InternationallyUnsurprisingly all the polls show that Americans don’t want to get too involved in Ukraine’s problems with Russian encroachment, just as they have been disinclined to get drawn into other recent world trouble spots, including Syria, Egypt and Libya. This is not surprising because in record numbers, Pew Research Center surveys find Americans saying the U.S. should mind its own business and let other countries get along as best they can.

Over the past decade, disillusionment with U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have been coincident with the growing number of Americans who are reluctant to see the U.S. take an active role in solving international problems. Indeed, a recent Pew Research national survey found respondents saying, by a margin of 51% to 17%, that the United States does too much rather than too little in helping solve world problems.

Most Americans Favor Shared World LeadershipAn important thing to recognize, however, is that the public’s current mood of disengagement is consistent with how it sees the U.S.’s global leadership role. For the past 20 years, Americans have favored a modest international leadership role. Currently just 12% think the U.S. should be the single world power while 20% think it should play a first among equals role. What most Americans (72%) want is the U.S. to play a shared world leadership role. 

This is a long-standing point of view. Opinions about America’s global leadership have changed very little since the end of the Cold War. Only briefly in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks did the public overwhelmingly reject the notion that the U.S. should mind its own business internationally. And even then, few Americans thought the U.S. should be the world’s leading nation or even play a first among equals role.

Views of U.S. Global Power Fall to 40-Year LowAnd perhaps Americans have come to recognize the consequences of its own inward point of view. A recent Pew Research Center/Council on Foreign Relations survey found the percentage of Americans believing that the U.S. is playing a less important and powerful role in the world climbing from 20% in 2004 to 53% in 2013.

Public Wants U.S. to Remain Sole Military SuperpowerHowever, there is one important caveat to the country’s cold feet about its international leadership. A huge majority of the public (68%) continues to believe that the United States is the world’s leading military power. And only one-in-three Americans think it would be acceptable if another country became as powerful as the U.S.

In so many words, the typical American continues to look at world leadership with a fair degree of skepticism and is extremely wary of engagement in areas of conflict. At the same time, most continue to take considerable comfort in American military power.  But there is also another increasingly important dimension to the American public’s world view, globalization. An ever larger majority of the U.S. public supports closer trade and business ties with other nations.

Topics: Globalization and Trade, Foreign Affairs and Policy

  1. Photo of Andrew Kohut

    is founding director of Pew Research Center.


  1. PAUL3 years ago


  2. William C+Crain3 years ago

    Indeed the arrogance of the Warrior Culture ~ that is all this country is but a Military Machine ~ our military uses more petroleum than the rest of the world combined on any given day. It would be a serious case of political whiplash if anyone was to predict these War Mongering acquiesense ~ the People say they want less involvement but that has not deterred the US State Dept / Pentagon IE Statagon from scheming and decimenating destabilization, decent, Civil War anywhere it wants and likely there’s some PIG Capitalist/Global resourcegrinder/Blackwater/ looking for Disaster Capital to line his pockets.
    The price of this Military Might is that it’s useless unless it’s USED and this is how the fn’g brass makes rank and them that made are working for more in private industry catering to the scum in the US State Dept. The US State Dept besides Capitalism is the Problem

  3. SFG3 years ago

    Concerned that the United States is providing the total defense for western Europe and they appear to believe they are entitled to it without any obligation of supporting political positions.

  4. Stephen Swain3 years ago

    Now we are into the meat! These results are not tofu. This is not tender lamb kebabs. We have been at this south Asian war business, as-is somehow there were a plan behind getting us involved and then over-involved. The United States does not do nation-building well, unless that nation is stable more than unstable, has resources of its own to stimulate growth, and is Western in cultural background for the most part. We have failed in both Iraq and Afghanistan for differing reasons and circumstances. Suffice it to say that Pakistan anchored one end of the continuum and Iran anchored the other. Will we NEVER-EVER learn? These south Asian societies are on their own dream/horror-story. We will likely very little ever change it (100 years). By the time the Pakis and the Afghanis catch up, even with the Indians, global warming will have wreaked havoc, and all this foolishness will have been for nothing from the new perspective of famine and drought.

  5. June Angstadt3 years ago

    We are so NOT a super power – we’re not any kind of power under Obama’s leadership (or lack of it). What he has done to our
    Armed Forces is treasonous……we are wide open for attack. He is so duplicitous – and who cares? Why didn’t the nation go wild when he had the audacity to eliminate so many of our top brass? Or when, in one of his initial speeches re: Obamacare, he said, regarding the military – ‘they should pay for their own insurance, nobody asked them to join’…and it’s been downhill from there.
    He has so diluted the solidarity of the US with the unbelievable number of Islamists for whom he’s opened the door and also put in Government employment (with clearances). It makes me shudder to realize how few know or care what is going on…..just as long as they get theirs.
    Congress is as inept and self indulgent as he; I really don’t understand why or how we are still a somewhat functioning country.
    Believe it or not, I have more respect for Putin than I ever will for the present people in the US gov’t (exclusions, of course)..especially Obama.

    1. Mae3 years ago

      Perhaps you should move to Russia.

      1. Stephen Swain3 years ago

        That comment is beneath your dignity. Let the lady speak. She is entitled to her opinion, just as you are, and just as I am. Let’s don’t waste time with name-calling and “why-don’t-you?” taunts.

  6. azyre3 years ago

    How is that logically possible when the US hasn’t truly been “successful” in the majority of its military “actions”, invasions or occupations in the past 25 years?

    The most successful was the first “Gulf War” or the US invasion to push Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. The US was invited (as were the other military powers involved) and some of the nations adjacent to the US picked up much of the bill.

    The Vietnam war, invasion & occupation of Afghanistan–allegedly for the purpose of or with the goal of getting “Bin-Laden, dead or alive” is a failure–the US is negotiating with the Taliban, has steadily lost ground and how long will Karzai’s gov’t last after the US leaves? It doesn’t control all of Afghanistan now. Iraq was a disaster from beginning to end. The US found no WMDs (the alleged reason for the invasion), and did not successfully “reconstruct” or “bring democracy to” Iraq. It did drive many educated and useful people out of Iraq. It did foment sectarian strife.

    So what has this alleged power accomplished?

    What has been won?

    1. Stephen Swain3 years ago

      “Back to the beginning was the rule!” These “people” are very tribal, even now. Mohammed had not been dead that long before Islam split in a bloody religious/civil war. They have been fighting every since. And they survive so that their sons can fight. Not all of them, but enough. The “hero journey” is so deeply engrained in their cultures that nothing we can do will keep them from fomenting violence, either against us or against each other.

  7. Dan Good3 years ago

    Could Pew conduct a poll asking if people feel well informed by the government and the main news sources? It would be very helpful if the main news sources included and debated what is reported in alternative media. People on the whole are not well informed, it seems. Or at least they have conflicting information. A good example is the role played in Ukraine by the US. Who is behind it? Who has given authority to subvert democracy in the Ukraine other countries? How was it done and what was the involvement of various organizations such as NED? Was the US doing the same in Syria? If so, this should be known and reported. Who was behind the sniper attacks in Maidan Square? This information should NOT be a matter of opinion and yet it is. It could be investigated. And why doesn’t someone tell Senators to act responsibly? Who, for instance, authorized a member of the Senator to work to undermine Russian participation in the World Cup of Football?

  8. Mike Walsh3 years ago

    I believe we should take an active role in European and Asian international problems; but not a leadership role. Conversely I believe that a leadership role in international problems in the Americas is more appropriate but should be the result of a a thoughtful and achievable process.