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Friday, May 18, 2012

Public Opinion and International Affairs

As we note in our chapter on foreign policy, the American public has only a fitful interest in international affairs. The Pew Research Center reports:
As the G-8 leaders prepare to meet at Camp David on Friday, the dominant topic of conversation will be the European debt crisis. Yet it is a crisis that has attracted minimal interest or concern among the U.S. public, despite warnings from economists that Europe’s problems may threaten this country’s fragile recovery.
Last week was typical: In the Pew Research Center’s weekly News Interest Index, just 17% said they were following news about economic problems in Europe very closely. Just 3% cited this as their top story of the week. By comparison, 40% tracked U.S. economic news very closely and 20% said they followed it more closely than any other story.
A week earlier, nearly four times as many said the death of football player Junior Seau was their top story than cited Europe’s economic problems (11% vs. 3%).
In part, the public’s lack of interest Europe’s woes is part of a broader indifference to international news. Last year, there were a number of breakthrough foreign stories, from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan to the “Arab spring.” Not this year.
Where Americans do have opinions on international relations, they often tend to differ from people in other countries.  Pew finds that people in most nations oppose Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons, but that Americans are particularly willing to use force: