It is hard to recall a time when foreign policy issues played so diminished a role in the American public’s thinking. Midterm election exit polls found only 8 percent of voters saying that a foreign policy issue was a voting consideration for them, and more generally, national polls show just 11 percent citing a foreign policy issue as the most important problem facing the nation. This is the lowest registration of international concerns since immediately before the 9/11 attacks.
While it is not unusual for foreign policy to take a back seat during difficult economic times, the absence of concern at a time when American troops are fighting a war in Afghanistan, and the threat of terrorism remains high is remarkable.
Part of the explanation may have to do with the fractured nature of public opinion with respect to the top foreign policy issues, as well as to the signs of disjuncture between the parties and their leadership on a number of fronts. These include: Afghanistan, trade and the START nuclear-arms-reduction treaty. Another reason may be that some of the biggest international issues confronting the nation are seemingly intractable to the extent that even debate about solutions is difficult. America’s place in the world, China’s emergence as a global power and efforts to combat terrorism simultaneously on many fronts fall into this category.