I was reading a Foreign Policy blog post this morning when I came upon a startling fact: international issues are a priority for less than two out of ten Americans. More than eight out of ten, on the other hand, cited domestic policy as their number one voting issue.
The findings, from a Washington Post-ABC News poll, got me thinking: do Americans care about the world anymore? Have domestic hot button issues — underemployment, slow or negative job growth, immigration, gay rights, contraception and reproduction, Occupy YouNameIt — taken over the political main stage and left the burning issues of the international landscape — fraudulent Russian elections, the Syrian crackdown, European disintegration, the transition of the Libyan government, clashes in Somalia, the DRC, and Sudan, to name a few — high and dry? And maybe, dare I say it, could that be a good thing for the United States?
The answer to each question is quite different. Let’s break it down.
1. Are Americans strictly America-oriented these days? It seems so — and not just from the Washington Post-ABC News poll. It has become increasingly clear since 2008 that the crucial issue in the 2012 elections would be our nation’s economics. While unemployment has dropped this month from 9% to 8.6%, not only could that merely be a reflection of seasonal employment changes, but it also does not constitute a large enough change to alleviate poverty or to sustain the surprising dip in November’s jobless rate. With a focus on such internal issues, American constituents have, logically, paid less attention to those occurring beyond our borders (unless we’re talking San Diego and Tijuana).
2. Have domestic issues left international ones in the dust? Maybe, maybe not. While voters may be ignoring international issues, it doesn’t mean politicians are. During Obama’s presidency, his track record with foreign policy has been nothing short of inspiring: take for example bin Laden, Al Awlaki, Qaddafi, meeting his promise in Iraq, starting to get out of Afghanistan, and restoring America’s international reputation — particularly in Europe and the Middle East. If Obama is re-elected, he will likely continue to engage with the world as much as he has since 2008. And what of the GOP candidates? Even the Republican debate back in November focused heavily on foreign affairs — and was even surprisingly gaffe-free.
3. What does all this mean for the United States? There are both positives and negatives. On the plus side, maybe the U.S. will discontinue its record of publicly supported foreign interventions that come at the expense of those living abroad (read: the United States’ involvement in Latin America… throughout the 20th century). But on the negative end of things, and perhaps a more sentimental end as well, isn’t it just a little bit sad that Americans could be growing increasingly indifferent to the world we live in?