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Reagan Institute Survey Reveals US Still on the Wrong Track

Latest analysis says Americans want more leadership in the world.

The just-published 2024 Reagan Institute Summer Survey, a significant barometer of American perspectives on US national security and foreign policy, has unveiled some unexpected findings. This research, widely respected for its insights, provides a snapshot of American opinions on US leadership, foreign policy, Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas war, China, and the value of alliances.

Previous surveys, released in June and November 2023, indicated participants believed the United States would benefit from less involvement in international affairs. This year the views have done a turnabout, and more Americans believe the United States should demonstrate increased worldwide leadership. The survey authors explained, “Six months out from another consequential presidential election, today’s global chaos has gripped the attention of the American people — defying the conventional wisdom that voters give little thought to foreign policy issues.” Conducted May 20-27, 2024, the new poll involved 1,257 adults.

Reagan Institute Survey Results Come With Caveat

When asked if the country was on the wrong track, 66% of respondents agreed, down slightly from  November, where it stood at 70%. However, at 66%, the number of people dissatisfied remains up from 51%, when President Joe Biden took office. Those who believe the country is moving in the right direction have ticked up by four percentage points since November to 29% but remain down from a high of 42%, when former President Donald Trump left office. The survey managers explained that the slight improvement in overall outlook was driven entirely by Democrats (54%), who believe the country is on the right track. However, even the Democrats’ right-track opinion has fallen from a high of 69% in February 2021.

The survey conclusion points to a notable increase in the percentage of people who believe it is beneficial for the United States to boost its leadership position in “international events.” The new figure stands at 54%, up from its nadir of 40% in November 2022. How this question was posed in the survey may provide insight into the results. The survey asked, “When it comes to international events, do you think it is better for the United States to be more engaged and take the lead or to be less engaged and react to events?”

It is difficult to answer this question without considering the threats facing the United States and the capability of the current leadership to handle international crises effectively. In November 2022, the memory of the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle led by the Biden team was still fresh in the minds of Americans. That would account for the steep decline in the number of respondents who believe global engagement was good for the US – from 51% in February 2021 to 40% in November 2022. Republicans were less enthusiastic regarding international engagement. Nonetheless, “six-in-ten [of those surveyed] think US involvement in world affairs is beneficial for the country and the world,” the survey results showed.

Illegal Immigration Is Biggest Issue

When it comes to domestic security and prosperity, 80% believed that illegal immigration across the southern border somewhat matters or matters a great deal, with nearly 60% choosing the latter option. These results are consistent with most opinion polls of likely voters across America. On other international issues — the war between Israel and Hamas, the potential war with China over Taiwan, and the conflict in Ukraine — showed respondents were less concerned – 43%, 43%, and 40%, respectively, believing these issues matter a great deal.

Participants were more nuanced in answering questions concerning NATO. More than 60% had a favorable view of the organization. Seventy-seven percent thought having allies supporting the United States if attacked was a primary benefit. “Nearly three-quarters [of those polled] support a US military response if a NATO ally is attacked,” the survey concluded. However, when the respondents were asked if the US should support NATO countries that are not spending 2% of their GDP on defense, “Support … drops 20 points [72% to 52%] if allies are not spending 2% on defense,” the survey authors explained, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for the 2024 presidential election, makes this very point.

There was one area of greater concensus: 86% want a strong military and believe it is crucial to peace and prosperity. “Officials from the Reagan Institute said they see the findings as evidence of ‘a growing desire for American leadership in the world’ and that US citizens for the most part ‘believe a strong US role in international affairs benefits both our country and the world,'” Military Times observed. The polling suggests a significant majority believe the current administration has put the United States on the wrong track.

The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliate.

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