In recent years, the percentages of Americans wanting the U.S. to mind its own business internationally has ranged from 42% to 49% — compared to an average of 36% over the 50-year study period.
That represents one of the highest measures of isolationist sentiment in this question series matched only briefly during the post-Vietnam era in the 1970s and in 1994, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Recent surveys show many other indicators of American disengagement both in general and in response to today’s foreign policy problems.
In the final month of the 2012 presidential campaign, no more than 6% of those surveyed cited a foreign policy issue, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the most important problem facing the country today. That compares to July, 2008 when 25% cited a foreign policy concern, including 17% who singled out the war in Iraq, even at a time when the country faced a deepening economic crisis. In January 2004, 37% cited a foreign policy concern.
Similarly, when the public was asked in January what President Obama should focus on, 83% said domestic policy and 6% said foreign policy. That was the lowest registration of foreign policy concerns in the 15 years of Pew Research’s January survey on national priorities.
Public interest in news from Egypt has plummeted since the early weeks of the Arab Spring in February 2011. And the share of Americans saying what happens in Egypt is “very important” to U.S. interests has fallen by 10 points – from 46% to 36% – since then.
The survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted July 11-14 among 1,002 adults, finds that about a quarter (23%) say the United States can have a lot of influence on the current situation, while nearly as many (24%) say it has little or no influence; 48% say the U.S. can have some influence on events in Egypt.
Fully 78% say that while the news from Egypt is important, “there are issues in the United States that concern me more.” And a majority (55%) says they feel they lack the background information to really know what is going on there. These opinions are little changed from two years ago, when public interest in Egypt news was substantially higher.