May 17, 2016

Clinton, Sanders supporters differ sharply on U.S. global role

Democrats who back Hillary Clinton differ from those who support Bernie Sanders in their views of many foreign policy issues, with some of the starkest divisions on fundamental questions relating to the U.S.’s role in the world, according to Pew Research Center surveys conducted in March and April.

Two-thirds (66%) of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters who support Clinton for the party’s presidential nomination say that world problems would be even worse without U.S. involvement; just 28% say U.S. efforts usually make things worse. By contrast, Sanders supporters are divided: 49% say global problems would be even worse without the U.S. being involved, while nearly as many (45%) say U.S. efforts usually make matters worse.

From defense spending to Israel, Clinton and Sanders supporters differ on a number of foreign policy issuesSanders supporters also are less likely than Democratic voters who back Clinton to say that the U.S. should help other countries deal with their problems (41% vs. 52%). A majority of those who prefer Sanders (54%) say that the U.S. should deal with its own problems and let other countries deal with their own problems as best they can, while 45% of Clinton supporters hold this view.

Sanders supporters more skeptical of U.S. global involvement than Clinton supportersA slim majority of Clinton supporters (53%) favor policies to try to keep the U.S. the only military superpower in the world, with 41% saying it would be acceptable if another country became as militarily powerful. Among Sanders supporters, 49% say it would be acceptable if another country became as militarily powerful as the U.S., while 42% support policies maintaining the U.S.’s role as sole superpower.

(For a look at how GOP voters view these and other issues, see “Trump supporters differ from other GOP voters on foreign policy, immigration issues.”)

Other issues: ISIS, defense spending and Israel

Clinton supporters more likely to say military campaign against ISIS is going wellA majority of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters (62%) approve of the U.S. military campaign against the Islamic militant group ISIS, though more who support Clinton (69%) than Sanders (56%) in the primary back military action.

While most Sanders supporters (62%) say the military campaign is not going well, just 38% of Clinton supporters agree. Most Clinton supporters (57%) say the campaign is going well.

About six-in-ten Democrats (59%) say their bigger concern is that the U.S. will go too far in getting involved in Iraq and Syria, versus 34% who say the U.S. will not go far enough in stopping Islamic militants. About two-thirds (68%) of Sanders supporters are more concerned the U.S. will go too far in becoming involved in Iraq and Syria, compared with about half of Clinton supporters (53%).

Defense spending cuts draw more support from Sanders backers than Clinton supportersWhen it comes to military spending, there is little support among either Clinton or Sanders backers for increasing the level of spending. But far more supporters of Sanders (43%) than of Clinton (25%) would like to see reductions.

Clinton and Sanders supporters disagree when it comes to striking the balance between anti-terrorism policies and civil liberties. About half of Clinton supporters (51%) say they are more concerned that U.S. anti-terrorism policies have not gone far enough to protect the country, while 35% say they have gone too far in restricting civil liberties. Sanders supporters express the opposite concern: 51% are more worried anti-terrorism policies have gone too far, while just 33% worry that they have not gone far enough.

By a wide margin (47% to 27%), Clinton supporters say they sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians in their dispute. By contrast, Sanders backers are divided, with fairly similar shares saying they sympathize with the Palestinians (39%) and Israel (33%).

On some of the issues on which there are divisions among supporters of the two Democratic candidates – including on the military campaign against ISIS and support for Israel or the Palestinians – GOP voters are largely in agreement. Conversely, while Republican voters are split over many aspects of immigration policy, Democratic voters are largely in sync with each other. For instance, overwhelming shares of both Sanders supporters (82%) and Clinton supporters (78%) say that immigrants to the U.S. strengthen the country. Only about a third of Republican voters (32%) say immigrants strengthen the country, but GOP voters who did not support Donald Trump in the primaries were more likely than Trump supporters to express this view (41% vs. 20%).

Topics: 2016 Election, Foreign Affairs and Policy, U.S. Political Parties

  1. Photo of Rob Suls

    is a research associate focusing on U.S. politics and policy at Pew Research Center.