Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Public Uncertain, Divided Over America’s Place in the World

7. Foreign policy, the parties and Obama

Republican Party seen as better able to handle foreign policy, terrorism

The GOP continues to have an advantage over the Democratic Party as the party the public says is best able to handle several foreign policy issues, while the Democratic Party holds an advantage when it comes to handling global climate change.

More say the Republican Party could do a better job making wise decisions about foreign policy than say the Democratic Party could do a better job (46% vs. 38%), with 16% declining to choose one party over the other. The Republican Party’s ability to handle foreign policy is seen more positively now than it was in July 2015, when about equal shares said the Republican Party (38%) and Democratic Party (41%) would do a better job on foreign policy.

In part, the Democrats’ lower rating for handling foreign policy comes from the relatively critical marks the party receives from Democratic-leaning independents. Just 53% of Democratic-leaning independents favor the Democrats on foreign policy. By comparison, 76% of Republican leaners prefer the GOP.

This partly arises from dissatisfaction with the party among Sanders supporters, many of whom lean toward the Democratic Party but do not identify as Democrats. Among Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters, 81% who support Clinton for the party’s nomination say the Democratic Party is better able to make wise decisions about foreign policy, compared with 59% of Sanders supporters.

As has been the case since 2002, Republicans also have a sizable advantage over Democrats on the issue of terrorism. In the current survey, 46% say the Republican Party could do a better job dealing with the terrorist threat at home, while 37% say the Democratic Party could do the better job.

The GOP holds a similar (11-point) lead over the Democratic Party when it comes to dealing with trade agreements with other countries. As with views of which party can better handle foreign policy, Clinton supporters give the Democratic Party higher marks than do Sanders supporters (77% vs. 65%).

The Democratic Party is preferred to the Republican Party by a wide margin when it comes to the issue of climate change. About half (51%) say the Democratic Party could do a better job dealing with climate change, while 30% say the Republicans could do a better job.

Obama and foreign policy

More disapprove than approve of Obama on foreign policy, immigration and Iran

About as many approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as president (48%) as disapprove (47%). Last month, 51% said they approved of the president’s performance and 44% disapproved.

More disapprove of Obama’s handling of the nation’s foreign policy than approve (53% vs. 40%). Similar shares say they disapprove of the president’s job dealing with the threat of terrorism (51%), and Iran (52%).

Obama’s handling of immigration also is viewed more negatively than positively: Just 38% approve, while 55% disapprove.

On balance, evaluations of Obama’s performance on the issue of global climate change are somewhat more positive: 47% say they approve of the president’s handling this issue, while 41% disapprove.

When it comes to Obama’s approach to foreign policy, 41% say the Obama administration is taking the interests of other countries into account too much, 36% say the administration considers other countries’ interests about the right amount and just 18% say the president takes into account the interests of other countries too little.

Partisan divide over how Obama addresses other countries' interests

Nearly six-in-ten Republicans (58%) think the Obama administration takes into account the interests of other countries too much, while 25% say it pays too little attention to other countries’ interests; just 12% say it strikes the right balance.

The view that the Obama administration takes other countries into account too much also is held by 47% of independents; 31% think the administration’s approach is about right and 19% say it accounts for other countries’ interests too little.

A majority of Democrats (63%) say the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy is about right when it comes to accounting for the interests of other countries; just 22% of Democrats say the administration is too concerned about the interests of other countries, and only 11% say it is concerned too little with other countries.

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