On the international issues defining the 2016 election – global trade, foreign aid and national security – new research shows that Americans are divided and wary, split along ideological lines but generally reluctant to engage with the world.
“The public views America’s role in the world with considerable apprehension and concern,” according to a Pew Research Center report on “America’s Place in the World” released Thursday.
Significant partisan splits remain: Democrats are more internationalist, Republicans are more distrustful of the rest of the world, and both sides rank threats differently. As the contentious 2016 presidential primary has made clear, there are also disagreements between backers of Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
But majorities of Americans tend to favor reduced global engagement, and supporters of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s stand out for their animus toward globalization and free trade deals.
Almost half – 49% – agree that “U.S. involvement in the global economy is a bad thing because it lowers wages and costs jobs.” Conversely, 44% say it’s a good thing “because it provides the U.S. with new markets and opportunities for growth.”
Opinions on the U.S. role in the global economy also elicit some of the widest partisan splits.
Trump supporters hold the most negative view, with 65% saying American involvement in the global economy is a bad thing. And 67% say they oppose importing more goods from developing countries.
A similar economic debate, playing out sharply on the campaign trail, can be seen among supporters of the Democratic presidential candidates.
Over half of Clinton voters (55%) think American involvement in the global economy is a good thing (37% say it’s bad). Sanders supporters, on the other hand, are split 47% to 48% on whether it is good or bad. In contrast to Trump backers, though, majorities of both camps support importing more goods from developing countries.
There is some consensus among the public about the main global threats facing the U.S., though sharp disagreement along party lines over their relative importance, according to the Pew research.
Eighty percent of Americans say ISIS is “a major threat to the well-being of the United States” – the top listed threat. Behind the terror group, foreign cyberattacks (72%) and global economic instability (67%) are ranked highest.
Beyond these threats, though, there is severe disagreement.
Climate change is particularly divisive, with 77% of Democrats viewing it as a “major threat” compared to just 26% of Republicans. And while Democrats say it is the top global threat, Republicans rank it the lowest of eight options in the survey.
On refugees from Iraq and Syria, the assessment is nearly the opposite. Seventy-four percent of Republicans say such refugees are a “major threat,” compared to only 40% of Democrats.
Again, Trump backers stand out, with fully 85% identifying refugees as a “major threat.” Clinton and Sanders supporters are far less likely to list refugees as “major threat,” at 40% and 37% each.
When it comes to spending on the military, the Pew report found that 35% of Americans favor an increase, while 24% want it decreased and 40% say it should stay the same.
A huge gap exists between Republicans and Democrats on the issue, with 61% of Republicans favoring increased spending to just 20% of Democrats. According to Pew, the partisan gap is 25 points higher than three years ago.
Among supporters of the remaining presidential contenders, Trump’s backers favor boosting defense spending the most (66%). Few Sanders supporters agree (25%), while backers of Clinton are split, with 43% favoring an increase.
The Pew report also surveyed what the U.S. should do for other countries. Though the U.S. spends less than one percent of annual GDP on foreign aid, many think America should prioritize itself more.
Over half of the public – 57% – say they want the U.S. “to deal with its own problems,” while just 37% say it should help other countries.
Additionally, 41% say “the U.S. does too much” to solve world problems, compared to 27% who say it does “too little.”
The survey was conducted between April 12 and 19 among a national sample of 2,008 adults.