American Views of the United Nations

By Dina Smeltz, senior fellow, public opinion and foreign policy, and Craig Kafura, senior program officer, studies

The 69th session of United Nations General Assembly will be held against the backdrop of international crises that include the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, ISIS military gains in Iraq and Syria, and continuing negotiations with Iran. While majorities of Americans are confident in the UN’s ability to carry out humanitarian efforts and peacekeeping missions, they are more skeptical of the UN’s effectiveness when it comes to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, resolving international conflicts, and sanctioning countries that violate international law.

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Americans support going along with UN policy even if not first choice for US

In every Chicago Council Survey since 2004, majorities of Americans have agreed that the United States should be more willing to make decisions within the UN even if this means that the United States will sometimes have to go along with a policy that is not its first choice, and the 2014 survey is no different (currently at 59%, returning to 2006 levels). Two in three Americans also say that strengthening the United Nations is an effective approach to achieving US foreign policy goals (64%).


United Nations rated highest on peacekeeping, humanitarian, and cultural activities

The 2014 Chicago Council survey finds that Americans rate the United Nation’s peacekeeping, cultural and humanitarian efforts as more effective than UN approaches toward more hard-hitting threats. About six in ten think the United Nations is doing a good job at sending peacekeeping troops to conflict zones (61%), protecting the cultural heritage of the world (61%), leading international efforts to combat hunger (57%), and protecting and supporting refugees around the world (57%). In a separate question, a majority also supports working through the United Nations to strengthen international laws against terrorism and to make sure UN members enforce them (78%).

But the public is more divided on whether the United Nation is doing a good or bad job at authorizing the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security (51% good, 45% bad), preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons (50% good, 47% bad), imposing sanctions to punish countries that violate international law (50% good, 46% bad) and resolving international conflicts through negotiations (50% good, 46% bad).



Strengthening the UN not a high foreign policy priority

However, strengthening the United Nations does not rate as a top goal for Americans. From 1974 to 2002, about half said that strengthening the United Nations was a very important goal. Since 2004, however, no more than four in ten say that strengthening the United Nations is a very important goal. This may partly reflect a partisan divide that emerged in the wake of the Iraq War, which was hotly debated in the UN Security Council before its start in 2003. Since in 2004, fewer Republicans and Independents consider strengthening the United Nations a very important goal, while the percentage of Democrats who favor doing so has remained more or less constant over the past decade.


On another question, a much smaller majority now than in 1974 says that the US role in the founding of the United Nations was “a proud moment” in US history (59% versus 81% in 1974), though many say it is neither a proud nor dark moment (12% in 2014) or that they are unsure (12% in 2014). Of course, the 40-year time difference could account for this change. But when asked the same question about the US role in World War II, an identical percentage today as in 1974 say the US role in WWII is a proud moment in American history (68% a proud moment for both 1974 and 2014).

Foreign Policy in the Age of Retrenchment

Yesterday, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs released Foreign Policy in the Age of Retrenchment, the first of several reports on the 2014 Chicago Council Survey. Below are a selection of key findings from the report, which you can find in full at Be sure to follow @ChicagoCouncil@IvoHDaalder, @RoguePollster, and @ckafura for continuing discussion of the 2014 Survey results. 

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Among much of the political elite today, a specter is haunting America—the specter of isolationism. Since the last Chicago Council Survey in 2012, many policymakers, politicians, and pundits have come to question the continued willingness of Americans to engage in world affairs. As global troubles brew in Gaza, Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine, some claim that the public is turning inward and resistant to any sort of US military intervention. And they have used public opinion polling to argue their points.

Public continues to support an active role for the United States in world affairs.

But a new survey by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, conducted from May 6 to 29, 2014, demonstrates that isolationism is not the appropriate term to describe current public opinion. Public support for international engagement remains solid, with six in ten Americans in favor of an active role in world affairs. At the same time, four in ten Americans now say the US should stay out of world affairs—a proportion that has grown to its highest point since the first Chicago Council Survey in 1974.


The new survey data show that this growing desire among Americans to “stay out” of world affairs is linked to increased criticism of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a decreased sense of threat, a long-standing desire to focus on domestic problems, and an increased divide among Republicans on this question. But the data do not show a desire to disengage from the world. Instead, results of the 2014 Chicago Council Survey confirm continued, and in some cases even growing support for US international involvement, especially when it comes to nonmilitary forms of engagement.

Indeed, the most striking finding of the 2014 Chicago Council Survey is the essential stability of American attitudes toward international engagement, which have not changed all that much since the Council conducted its first public opinion survey 40 years ago. As they have for four decades, Americans support strong US international leadership, place primacy on protecting American jobs over other foreign policy goals, favor diplomacy with countries that are hostile toward the United States, support participation in many international treaties and agreements, and endorse trade despite economic setbacks. Americans remain selective about when they will support putting US troops in harm’s way, but are most likely to do so in response to top threats or humanitarian crises.

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American Public Opinion on NATO

By Ivo H. Daalder, president, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

NATO Leaders meet in Wales this week for what will be the most important Summit meeting since the end of the Cold War. Russian actions in Ukraine pose a fundamental challenge to European security—and thus a challenge to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. What do Americans think about NATO, the threats to security, and the steps the US might take to uphold its defense commitments on the other side of the Atlantic? In the new 2014 Chicago Council Survey, the American public offers broad support for the U.S. commitment to NATO, views Russia increasingly unfavorably, and worries about Russia’s territorial ambitions. At the same time, support for sending troops to defend NATO countries continues to be relatively weak.

Here’s what Americans had to say about these issues from the 2014 Chicago Council Survey conducted May 6-29.

Americans support for NATO is at highest level in 40 years

Since the first Chicago Council Survey in 1974, majorities have consistently favored maintaining or increasing the U.S. commitment to NATO. Today, such support stands at 78 percent, the highest level in 40 years. As in previous polls, most of this support comes from Americans believing that the U.S. commitment to NATO should remain as it as it is now (66%); an additional 12 percent favor increasing the commitment. Only 7 percent want to withdraw entirely from NATO, and another 12 percent want to decrease U.S commitment.


Opinion of Russia hits post-Cold War low

The strong support of NATO may reflect increased wariness about Russia following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for rebels in Ukraine. American views toward Russia have now dropped to the lowest level since the Cold War. On a scale of 0 to 100, Americans rate Russia a 36 on average in 2014. This is just above the ratings Americans gave to the Soviet Union during the Chicago Council’s Cold War-era surveys of 1978-1986 and is the lowest rating ever given to Russia since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.


At the same time, only a minority of Americans (38%) sees Russia’s territorial ambitions as a critical threat to the vital interests of the United States, though another 50 percent of Americans see it is an important threat. Perhaps as a result, only three in ten support using U.S. troops to come to Ukraine’s defense if Russia invades the rest of that country (30%), though that is an increase of ten points compared to when the question was asked in 1994.


Only a minority would support using US troops to defend NATO’s Baltic members

When asked about the possibility of Russia invading the Baltic countries, only 44 percent of Americans support using U.S. forces to protect “NATO allies such as Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.” While low, especially given the commitment to collective defense of the NATO Treaty, current support for using US troops to defend NATO allies is much higher than in the late 1990s. Then, just three in ten Americans (28%) supported using US troops if Russia invaded Poland, which was about to join the Alliance as a new member. Moreover, while higher than in the case of the Baltic states today, in 1994 only a bare majority of Americans (54%) supported using US troops to defend “western Europe” from a Russian invasion.

American Public Opposes Arming Rebels in Syria

By Dina Smeltz and Craig Kafura

With the conflict in Syria well into its fourth year, Chicago Council Survey results from May 2014 show that a majority of the American public does not see the conflict in Syria as a critical threat to the United States. While the Obama administration has proposed $500 million to train and arm rebel groups in Syria, Americans oppose sending arms and supplies to anti-government groups in Syria. Instead, a majority of the public favors increasing diplomatic and economic sanctions on Syria and half say they would support enforcing a no-fly zone.

One in four Americans see conflict in Syria as a critical threat

At the time of this survey, only a quarter (24%) of Americans saw the continuing conflict in Syria as a critical threat. A majority (61%) considered it an important but not critical threat. This is far lower than other threats asked about in the 2014 Chicago Council Survey, placing 19th out of 20 threats to the U.S.


While some politicians have called for a greater US role in Syria, only one in four Americans think the United States is not doing enough (26%). Half (50%) think that the US government is currently doing about the right amount on Syria, with two in ten (20%) saying it is doing too much.

Continued opposition to arming rebels

Americans remain opposed to providing material support to rebel groups in Syria. One in four (25%) say that they would support the United States and its allies sending arms and supplies to anti-government groups in Syria, while seven in ten (70%) oppose doing so. Americans said much the same in 2012, when 67 percent opposed arming rebel groups.

Support for arming rebel groups in Syria is highest among those Americans who say the US is not doing enough, but a majority of this group still opposes sending arms and supplies (40% support, 57% oppose). Larger majorities among those who say the US is doing the right amount (74%, 23% support) or too much (85%, 15% support) oppose sending weapons and supplies.

Solid majority endorse increased sanctions on Syria

After asking for assessments of the US government’s current approach to Syria, respondents were presented with several specific options that could be taken. Two in three Americans (67%) support increasing economic and diplomatic sanctions on Syria. This is a slight increase from 2012, when 63 percent of the public supported increasing sanctions on the Assad regime.

Americans divided on Syrian no-fly zone

Though Americans seem fairly satisfied with the current approach to Syria, there is a relatively high level of public support for enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria, including bombing Syrian air defenses. On this issue, the public is evenly divided, with 48 percent in support and 47 percent opposed. This level of support is consistent whether the operation is part of a United Nations Security Council authorized military mission or if done as part of a coalition of like-minded allies (48% support for each).

As might be expected, support for enforcing a no-fly zone is highest among those Americans who say the US is not doing enough on Syria (65%, 32% oppose). Meanwhile, Americans who say the government is doing about the right amount on Syria are divided on the issue (50% support, 46% opposed). ). Those who say the government is doing too much oppose a no-fly zone (71%, vs. 28% in support).


Few want to send troops into Syria, but more support peacekeeping mission

Many Americans are also open to the idea of contributing US troops to a peacekeeping mission in Syria if a peace agreement is reached. A sizable minority (44%) say they would support sending troops to enforce that agreement, with 55 percent opposed. Other than for peacekeeping, though, the idea of sending US troops to Syria is unpopular with the American public: fewer than two in ten (17%) support the US sending troops to Syria. Even those Americans who say the US is not doing enough on Syria are hesitant to put boots on the ground: only a quarter of this group favor sending troops.

Support for sending troops appears to be linked to a sense of moral obligation, national interest and a belief that US intervention would make a difference. When those who supported sending troops to Syria were asked the reason for their support, they most frequently cited that the US had a moral obligation to act, it would make a difference in stopping the war, or that it was in our national interest to act. Fewer said they supported sending troops to Syria because the mission was likely to succeed, people around the world would view it as a legitimate action, the risk of American lives would be low, or the financial cost would be acceptable. Those opposed to sending troops to Syria cited the risks to American lives, doubts that the situation is vital to US national interest, potential financial costs, and skepticism that US intervention would make a difference.

Public opposes accepting Syrian refugees into United States

A majority of Americans (55%) oppose accepting Syrian refugees into the United States, while four in ten (42%) support doing so. This opposition appears to reflect American concerns about immigrants and refugees more broadly. Indeed, Americans who see large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the US as a critical threat are far less likely to support accepting Syrian refugees (19%) than those Americans who see it as an important but not critical threat (51%), or not an important threat at all (61%).

There are also differences among age groups when it comes to admitting Syrian refugees into the United States: a majority of Americans under the age of 45 support taking in refugees (52%; 45% opposed), while a majority of Americans older than 45 oppose doing so (64%; 32% support).

Democrats more likely to support peacekeeping; Republicans more opposed to refugees

As is generally the case with peacekeeping missions, Democrats are more likely to support sending troops (54%, vs. 38% of Republicans and Independents). Republicans, meanwhile, are more likely to support enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria (55%, vs. 49% of Democrats and 42% of Independents). Americans who say they identify as part of or sympathize with the Tea Party movement are more likely to support a no-fly zone as well (59%, vs. 47% of non-tea partiers). Note that among those who consider themselves a part of or identify with the Tea Party movement (12% overall), 49 percent identify as Republicans, 18 percent as Democrats, and 31 percent as Independents.

When it comes to refugees, there are strong partisan divisions as well. A majority of Democrats (55%) support taking in refugees from Syria, though only a quarter of Republicans (27%) and four in ten Independents (40%) agree. This fits with partisans’ differing levels of concern about immigrants and refugees coming to the United States, which a majority of Republicans (55%) see as a critical threat. In contrast, only two in ten Democrats (21%) say the same, while Independents split the difference (42%).

On other issues, as is usually the case in foreign policy, partisans agree. Majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents oppose sending troops into Syria, oppose arming anti-government groups, and support increasing economic and diplomatic sanctions on Syria.

About the 2014 Chicago Council Survey

This analysis is based on data from the 2014 Chicago Council Survey and previous Chicago Council Surveys of the American public on foreign policy. The survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide research panel between May 6 to May 29, 2014 among a national sample of 2,108 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error for the overall sample is ± 2.1 percentage points.

A full report on the results of the 2014 Chicago Council Survey will be released on September 15.

The 2014 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Korea Foundation, and the United States-Japan Foundation.


Americans Prefer Neutrality in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

By Dina Smeltz and Craig Kafura

Chicago Council Survey results from May, before the recent outbreak of fighting in Gaza, show that Americans did not see the lack of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians to be a critical threat to the vital interests of the United States. A solid majority continued to want the United States to remain neutral in the conflict, even though their sympathies tended to lie more with Israel than the Palestinian Authority.

Americans opt for neutrality

Over the last decade of Chicago Council Surveys, a majority of Americans have consistently advocated for a neutral approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Chicago Council results from May 2014 found that six in ten (64%) said the United States should not take either side, while three in ten (30%) favored taking Israel’s side (3% favored the Palestinians’ side).

Neutrality in Conflict

While these recent data were collected prior to the June kidnappings that sparked outbreak of fighting in July, previous data suggest that these incidents would most likely not have a dramatic effect on Americans’ preference for the United States to stay neutral. For example, results from the identical question in a 2000 Gallup Poll fielded just prior to the beginning of the Second Intifada found that a majority said the United States should not take either side. Two years later, the 2002 Chicago Council Survey found a majority continued to prefer that the United States remain neutral, just after an outbreak of fighting in Jenin and an extended standoff at the Church of the Nativity. And in 2010, a year after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza ended in Israeli forces declaring a unilateral ceasefire, a majority of Americans continued to support not taking either side in the conflict.

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Russia Reality Check

By Kjell Engelbrekt

US-Russia relations appear to be at an all-time low ever since the establishment of the Russian Federation in the fall of 1991. The new Chicago Council Survey figures clearly demonstrate this general trend, even without accounting for the presumable further damage done by the shooting down of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17th. That incident may very well have been a horrible mistake by pro-Kremlin separatists. Yet while consistent efforts by the Kremlin to conceal its role in supporting the separatists and furnishing them with heavy weapons, such as sophisticated surface-to-air missile systems, might succeed in keeping Russians misled, they will deepen distrust in the United States and the West at large.

There are various interpretations as to how US-Russia relations evolved from the initial attempt by the first Obama administration to improve ties through selective engagement on issues of common concern (the ‘reset’ approach) to the mutual frustration of the mid-2010s. In fact, the deterioration accelerated sharply over just 12 to 18 months. As long as Dmitry Medvedev occupied the presidential post (that is, until early 2012), some aspects of the bilateral relationship—such as cooperation on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—were actually moving in the right direction.

But in 2013-2014 presidents Putin and Obama repeatedly misjudged each other at critical junctures. Putin appears to have believed he would have a free hand at bullying neighbors into accepting higher prices on Russian gas and coercing them to accept his own deeply asymmetric version of the European Union. Supposedly, he also thought his insistence on placing Ukraine at the center of his strategic vision would be tolerated by Western governments.

Few political leaders in the transatlantic community recognized the full potential for conflict inherent in Ukraine’s Maidan movement. Obama and his advisors were also slow to realize that Putin not only sought to rebuild Russia, but a Soviet Union–minus the ideology yet including its international political prominence. Putin’s diplomatic envoys have in fact been working overtime to create conditions that would blunt US influence not just in Russia’s ‘near abroad’ but in the Middle East, Europe, as well as in Latin America.

The realization that the Kremlin is not just ‘sticking it to the Americans’ (in extending asylum to Edward Snowden, for instance) but is actively trying to undermine US primacy in world affairs is gradually catching up with American public opinion. And Russia’s covert military operations in eastern Ukraine—after already having conquered Crimea through a well-executed stealth operation in mid-Spring—and the ongoing cover-up of the circumstances surrounding the downing of flight MH17 now provide a sobering reality check for many others in the international community, not least those preoccupied with international law and order. To the extent that leaders in Europe, Southeast Asia and elsewhere respond adequately to this situation, the US government will be in a better position to limit the Kremlin’s opportunities to further exploit Western and international benevolence and neglect.

Kjell E. Engelbrekt was a visiting fellow at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the University of Illinois at Chicago this past spring. He is currently working on a manuscript that examines the impact of a changing distribution of power on the diplomatic practices of great powers in international institutions, especially the UN Security Council and the G8/G20. His recent writings have focused on NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya, the US-Russia ‘reset’ policy, and evolving relations between Asia’s great powers and the United States and Europe. Engelbrekt holds a PhD in political science from Stockholm University. He is associate professor at the Swedish National Defense College and member of the Swedish Royal Academy of War Sciences. He has served as a research fellow at Columbia University (New York), Humboldt-Universität (Berlin), and the European University Institute (Florence). In addition to his academic record, Engelbrekt has served as secretary-general of the Swedish North Atlantic Treaty Association, research analyst at the RFE/RL Research Institute, and consulted for the UN Development Program and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

From Reset to Regret: Views of Russia Fall to Levels Not Seen Since Cold War

By Dina Smeltz and Craig Kafura
The New York Times and other news outlets reported today on President Obama’s remarks about the delays surrounding the international investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. He  urged Russia to pressure the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine to open access to the crash site.  He also went further, saying “if Russia continues to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and to back these separatists,” then “Russia will only further isolate itself from the international community and the costs for Russia’s behavior will only continue to increase.”

New Chicago Council Survey results (collected between May 6 and 29, before the Malaysian plane was shot down on July 17) show that American views of Russia have become less positive now than at any time since the Cold War. Yet few consider Russia’s territorial ambitions a critical threat to the United States. This helps to explain why only 30 percent of Americans support a US military intervention in Ukraine if Russia invades the rest of the country.

American views of Russia at lowest point since Cold War

Likely as a result of the Ukraine crisis, Americans’ feelings toward Russia have fallen to their lowest levels since the Cold War. On a scale of 0 to 100, with lower ratings representing less-favorable views, Americans rated Russia a 36 on average. This is just above the ratings Americans gave to the Soviet Union during the Chicago Council’s Cold War-era surveys of 1978-1986 and is the lowest rating ever given to Russia since the dissolution of the USSR.


Views of Russian influence unchanged

Reflecting Russia’s new belligerence in the region, Americans rate Russian influence in the world an average of 6.2 out of 10, an increase from the average rating of 5.8 that Americans gave Moscow in 2012. By comparison, Americans rated the United States an average of 8.6 and China a 7.4. A rating of 6.2 places Russia just below Japan (6.5) in terms of global influence. Overall, perception of Russian influence over the past decade has remained fairly stable, as seen in the figure below. Nor do many expect Russia to be significantly more influential in the future. When asked to rate its influence ten years from now, Americans gave Russia an average of 6.3 out of 10.


Russia’s ambitions not seen as critical threat

Four in ten Americans (38%) say they see Russia’s territorial ambitions as a critical threat to the vital interests of the United States, while half (50%) say they are an important but not critical threat. This places the threat of Moscow’s ambitions well behind other threats asked about in the 2014 Chicago Council Survey (it ranked 15 out of 20 items in terms of being a critical threat).

There are generational differences in these threat perceptions as well as in views of Russia. Almost half of those over the age of 60 saying Russian territorial ambitions are a critical threat (46%). Older Americans also have less favorable views of Russia overall. But even younger Americans, who would have no memory of the Cold War, have an unfavorable view of Russia.

Broad support for US government spying on Russia

While not a high level threat, Americans still want to keep a close eye on Russia. Nearly eight in ten Americans (77%) support the US government secretly spying on the Russian government. This is a higher level of support than in 1994 when 63 percent of Americans supported such espionage.

Americans oppose sending US troops to Ukraine

In part because Americans do not see Russian ambitions as a threat to US vital interests, a majority of the public opposes using US troops to defend Ukraine in the event of Russian invasion (68%). Overall three in ten (30%) favor sending troops. Even those who perceive a critical threat tend to oppose using US troops for this purpose (51%, with 48% in favor).

Though low, this overall level of support is actually higher than in the past. In 1994, only one in five Americans (20%) supported using US troops to defend Ukraine from Russian invasion (59% opposed, 22% not sure).


Negative views of Russia and opposition to using U.S troops in Ukraine cross partisan lines, though Republicans (36%) are somewhat more likely to support sending US troops to defend Ukraine than Democrats (27%) or Independents (29%). In addition, Republicans (48%) are more likely than Democrats (35%) or Independents (34%) to consider Russia’s territorial ambitions a critical threat.

Despite the fact that most Americans who consider themselves a part of the Tea Party movement identify as Republicans, Tea Party supporters are actually less likely to support sending US troops to defend Ukraine in the event of Russian invasion (21%, vs. 32% of non-Tea Party members) [1]. This is consistent with the generally non-interventionist views of prominent Tea Party leaders.

Instead of military action, Americans would favor the United States increasing economic and diplomatic sanctions on Russia. According to an April 2014 Pew Research Center/USA Today poll, 53 percent of Americans support sanctioning Putin’s government in response to the Ukraine crisis, while 36 percent oppose such a move (one in ten are unsure) [2].

Bipartisan support for economic aid to Ukraine

Despite their opposition to sending US troops to Ukraine in the event of Russian invasion, a plurality of Americans (43%) say that economic aid to Ukraine should be kept about the same, while an additional 15 percent support increasing that aid. That’s good news for Ukraine. The beleaguered country was recently approved for a $17 billion loan from the IMF, owes $9 billion in foreign-currency payments this year, and has seen the value of the hryvnia plummet against international currencies.

Americans may see this economic aid as a counterbalance to Russian ambitions. Those who see Russia’s territorial ambitions as a threat to the United States are more likely to support increasing or maintaining economic aid to Ukraine.


Support for economic aid to Ukraine is also correlated with support for sending troops to the Eastern European nation in the case of Russian invasion. Majorities of those who favor military action (73%), as well as those who oppose sending troops (59%), support increasing or maintaining economic aid to Ukraine.

However, according to an April 2014 Pew Research Center/USA Today poll, this support does not extend to sending arms and military supplies to the Ukrainian government. While three in ten (30%) support providing military aid to Ukraine, six in ten (62%) oppose doing so.

About the 2014 Chicago Council Survey

This analysis is based on data from the 2014 Chicago Council Survey and previous Chicago Council Surveys of the American public on foreign policy. The survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide research panel between May 6 to May 29, 2014 among a national sample of 2,108 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error for the overall sample is ± 2.1 percentage points.

The 2014 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Korea Foundation, and the United States-Japan Foundation.



[1] Among those who consider themselves a part of or identify with the Tea Party movement (12% overall), 49 percent identify as Republicans, 18 percent as Democrats, and 31 percent as Independents.

[2] Pew Research Center, April, 2014, “Bipartisan Support for Increased U.S. Sanctions against Russia.”

A Tree Grows in Yasukuni

By Dina Smeltz

The Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan has received a lot of attention in the past year, and not just from visitors.  The shrine is controversial because it commemorates Japan’s 2.5 million war dead, including 14 Class-A war criminals convicted by an Allied tribunal.  Japanese officials’ visits to the memorial stir up emotions in China and South Korea, who view the Yasukuni shrine as a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression and feel that the Japanese have shown insufficient remorse for wartime atrocities.  In fact, Chinese officials have likened Japanese politicians’ visits to the shrine to the idea of German politicians laying flowers on Hitler’s bunker.

Yesterday – just a day before President Obama’s arrival in Japan – about 150 Japanese lawmakers visited the shrine as part of Yasukuni’s spring festivals. Prime Minister Abe decided not to visit the shrine, opting instead to send an offering of the “masakaki,” a ceremonial tree used in Shinto rituals. 

This is a good move on the part of Abe.  His last visit to the Yasukuni shrine in late December 2013 – the first such visit by a Japanese Prime Minister in seven years –  heightened tensions with China and South Korea and even drew criticism from the United States.  Many people in Japan were also critical of the Prime Minister’s December visit to the Yasukuni shrine, according to Asahi Shimbun polls conducted after Abe’s visit.  Many Japanese also expressed concerned about Abe’s policies toward China and South Korea.

According to a January 25-26 Asahi Shimbun telephone survey (questions translated by The Mansfield Foundation), slightly more among the Japanese public said that Prime Minister Abe was “wrong” (46%) than “right” (41%) to visit the shrine, and a majority thought the visit had a negative influence on Japan’s foreign policy (56% vs. 36% not a negative influence).   By a 5 to 4 margin, more Japanese said that it is important to take “seriously” the strong criticisms of Abe’s visit to Yasukuni from China, South Korea, the United States and Russia (51% to 40%).

These results are a bit different from those reported in an August 2013 survey conducted in Japan by Genron NPO/Public Opinion Research Institute Corporation.  That survey, conducted before Abe’s visit to Yasukuni, found that nearly half thought there was “no problem” if a Japanese Prime Minister wanted to visit the shrine (46%) and an additional 28 percent thought it was ok “as long as the visit was made as a private citizen.”  Only one in ten (10%) thought it was not ok, whether as an official visit or as a private citizen.

Looking to the visit’s broader impact, a February 15-18, 2014 Asahi Shimbun poll showed that a majority of the Japanese public were concerned [“thought that it matters”] a lot (28%) or to some degree (50%) if Japan’s relations with China and Korea deteriorate.  Asked about Abe’s policies toward Japan and South Korea, about half said they opposed (48%) Abe’s approach, compared to a third who favored (33%).   And at least in February, half of the Japanese public thought that Abe should “rush to hold a summit conference with China and Korea” (52%) versus a third who thought the Prime Minister should not (34%).

Hold that thought.  One of President Obama’s purposes for his stops in Asia is to see if he can persuade Japan and South Korea to set aside their differences and cooperate, much as he tried to do in March when he orchestrated a  trilateral meeting with Prime Minister Abe and South Korean President Park on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit at The Hague.

At the very least, more around the world are becoming aware of the sensitivities regarding the Yasukuni shrine.  Just today, Justin Bieber apologized to his fans in China after he posted a photo of his visit to Yasukuni to >15 million beliebers on Instagram this week. According to TIME magazine, he responded today (via Instagram): “While in Japan I asked my driver to pull over for which I saw a beautiful shrine. I was misled to think the Shrines were only a place of prayer. To anyone I have offended I am extremely sorry. I love you China and I love you Japan.”

Less is More: American Views on Ukraine

By Dina Smeltz and Craig Kafura

In today’s post, we would like to highlight two surveys that were conducted in late March that have not been amplified as much as Pew, Gallup, and other polls about American attitudes on the situation in Ukraine. One survey was conducted by Quinnipiac University Polling Institute between March 26-31, and the other was conducted by the Reason Foundation and the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation (the Reason-Rupe poll; fieldwork by Princeton Survey Research Associates International) between March 26-30. While the Reason Foundation’s mission statement includes “advancing a free society by developing, applying, and promoting libertarian principles,” their survey questions are objective and do not lean libertarian, and PSRAI is an excellent polling firm.

Approval Ratings

Robert Kagan’s recent editorial “President Obama’s Foreign Policy Paradox” in the Washington Post (explaining why Americans dislike the foreign policy they desire) left us wondering what Americans think of the President’s management of the situation in Ukraine. Specifically, how do American approval ratings of Obama’s policy on Ukraine mesh with actions they would actually applaud him for doing (or not doing) in this particular case.

The Quinnipiac poll found that more disapprove (47%) than approve (41%) of the way the president has handled “the situation involving Russia and Ukraine.” The Reason-Rupe survey similarly found just slightly more disapproving (40%) than approving (37%) of the “way Barack Obama is handling the situation in Ukraine.” There are wide partisan differences on this question, as you might expect. In both cases, solid majorities of Democrats approve of the President’s management of the Ukraine crisis, while solid majorities of Republicans disapprove (a plurality of Independents also disapprove).


According to Reason-Rupe data, there is a great deal of overlap between the portion of Americans who approve of Obama’s job performance as president (overall, 43% approve and 51% disapprove) and assessments of his handling of the Ukraine situation. Seven in ten of those who approve of his performance as president also approve of his policy on Ukraine; seven in ten of those who disapprove of his performance as president also disapprove of his policy on Ukraine. Only one in ten Americans differs from this pattern.

Too Tough, Too Weak, or Just Right?

The problem with approval-disapproval type questions is that it is difficult to discern from toplines alone whether people are critical because they feel the US should be doing more, less or something different. Fortunately, the Quinnipiac survey asked a separate question and found that Americans think it is more important to avoid getting “too involved” in the situation (54%) than it is “to take a firm stand against Russian actions” (39%). Similarly, another Quinnipiac question found that a plurality say that Barack Obama’s dealing with the situation has been about right (45%), versus not tough enough (36%) or too tough (6%). In a standoff between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Obama, Americans are equally divided on who is the stronger leader (42% for both).

Let’s look more closely at support for the possible array of options available (or at least, those available in polling questions).


The Quinnipiac poll found that 69 percent of Americans support the US and its European allies imposing economic sanctions against Russia, while slightly smaller majorities supported sanctions in this case in March 5-9 CNN/ORC (59%) and in March 7-9 ABC News/Washington Post (57%) surveys. But ABC/WP reported that only 40 percent supported sanctions if they were imposed by the US alone. The CNN/ORC poll also found a majority opposed to canceling the summit meeting between “Russia and the US and its Western allies” (58% oppose, 40% favor).

Beyond Sanctions

Few Americans support more forceful action. One in three (31%) says they would prefer the US to continue imposing economic sanctions given Russia’s “invasion of Ukraine,” though 58 percent say they would prefer to stay out of the situation between Russia and Ukraine altogether (8% prefer to send US military troops).

Other polls show similar results: The CNN/ORC survey showed large majorities opposed to sending US ground troops (88%), US airstrikes but no ground troops (82%), or the US sending weapons and other military supplies to the Ukrainian government (76%). None of these questions asked about a multilateral military action, however, which is a far more likely option than unilateral US military action.

This doesn’t mean that Americans don’t care about the situation in Ukraine. Several surveys show that majorities of Americans are following the situation at least somewhat closely and a majority in the Quinnipiac survey express concern that the current situation “could develop into a larger regional conflict that could lead to the US military getting involved” (80%, including 39% very concerned). But while a plurality consider Ukraine a friendly country (47%), only 17 percent consider Ukraine to be an “ally” according to a March 22-23 Gallup poll.

With an eye to the future, the Reason-Rupe poll asked respondents about possible actions if Russia invades additional parts of Ukraine. In this case, 61 percent would favor imposing stricter economic sanctions, but no more than a third would favor sending US military aid and weapons to the Ukrainian government (33%) or sending US troops (20%).

Unpacking Disapproval

Recapping the range of results, then, roughly 40 percent of Americans seem to disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Ukrainian situation. Yet, no more than about a third of Americans would support sending troops or military equipment, and multilateral sanctions are the only tool that Americans seem to endorse at this point. Furthermore, only 17 percent of Americans characterize Ukraine as an ally.

On the surface, it seems that some of the criticism about US policy on Ukraine must be based either on a desire to stay out of the situation altogether and/or on partisan disdain for the President overall. Thankfully, the Reason-Rupe poll also released a number of crosstabulations, letting us look a bit deeper into the data.


As the figure above illustrates, whether or not Americans approve of the President’s handling of the Ukraine situation, they are more inclined to want to stay out of the conflict altogether; this is especially true of those who disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the situation (47% among those who approve, 61% among those who disapprove). Those who approve of his policy are more likely than those who disapprove to support continuing sanctions (42% among those who approve, 26% of those who disapprove). Only about one in ten of those who approve and disapprove supports sending US military troops and assets.

Looking at the options by partisan divides, opinions are even more similar, with nearly six in ten among Republicans, Democrats and Independents opting to stay out of the conflict (see figure below). So in this case, why don’t American’s like the President’s foreign policy on Ukraine? Very few seem to disapprove because they want the President to do more. Rather, it seems that they either want him to do even less–or they just might not like the President.



In Advance of the Three Amigos Summit

By Dina Smeltz

Coinciding with NAFTA’s 20th anniversary year, President Obama along with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper are slated to discuss trade, investment and security issues next week at the North American Summit in Toluca, Mexico.

To help shed light on public perceptions of the US-Mexico relationship in advance of North American Summit in Toluca, Mexico next week, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs partnered with Centro de Estudios Sociales y de Opinión Pública (CESOP), Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE), Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM), and the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute to carry out just-released opinion surveys in Mexico and the United States (see methodology at end of posting). Findings show that while government officials have been hoping to diversify bilateral policies beyond drug trafficking, organized crime and border security, the Mexican and American publics are not quite ready to let go of the traditional security issues.

Both Countries Viewed as Mutually Important: Americans and Mexicans recognize the importance of their neighbor to their country’s role in the world. Eight in ten Mexicans believe the United States is important for Mexico (79%).  Seven in ten Americans said the same thing about Mexico in April 2013 (69%).Both sides also agree that current bilateral relations are positive:  six in ten Mexicans (59%) and Americans (60%) say that current relations between the two countries are good.

There is a hint of resentment behind Mexican opinion, however, with a plurality (42%) saying that Mexico cooperates with the US “more than it should.” Twenty-three percent say it cooperates less than it should, and 22 percent say cooperation is about right. Continue reading