A large majority of Americans think the world is a more dangerous place than it was several years ago. And a terrorist group that was not even on the public’s radar a year ago – the Islamic militants known as ISIS or ISIL – today ranks near the top of its list of U.S. security threats.
As the public’s views of global threats have changed, so too have opinions about America’s role in solving world problems. On balance, more continue to think the United States does too much, rather than too little, to help solve world problems. But the share saying the U.S. does too little to address global problems has nearly doubled – from 17% to 31% – since last November, while the percentage saying it is doing too much has fallen from 51% to 39%.
As the public begins to feel threatened by events overseas, it is likely to follow historic trends by shifting away from Jeffersonian populism to Jacksonian populism. Jeffersonians have historically focused on minimal government abroad as well as at home, arguing that the good example of American success coupled with non-interference should drive American foreign policy (think Rand Paul). The Jacksonians, meanwhile, make an exception for defense, which they feel to be one of the few core, legitimate areas for muscular government.
This new survey suggests that on the right, at least, a shift in this direction is already underway:
Republicans, Democrats and independents all are more likely to say the U.S. does too little to solve world problems, but the shift among Republicans has been striking. Last fall, 52% of Republicans said the U.S. does too much to help solve global problems, while just 18% said it does too little. Today, 46% of Republicans think the U.S. does too little to solve global problems, while 37% say it does too much.
As the threat perception continues to grow, the American electorate likely will focus more on national defense, which could be an important issue in 2016—unless the tempests raging around the world somehow quiet and the public goes back to sleep.
That does not, at this point, appear likely.