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Americans Sour on Nation-Building, Oil Dependence

by Pete Ross

Foreign Affairs is featuring an eye-opening analysis of public attitudes towards 'democracy building.' The centerpiece article by Dan Yankelovich discusses two recent surveys by Public Agenda which bring bad news for neo-con interventionists:

As for the goal of spreading democracy to other countries, only 20 percent of respondents identified it as "very important" -- the lowest support noted for any goal asked about in the survey. Even among Republicans, only three out of ten favored pursuing it strongly. In fact, most of the erosion in confidence in the policy of spreading democracy abroad has occurred among Republicans, especially the more religious wing of the party. People who frequently attend religious services have been among the most ardent supporters of the government's policies, but one of the recent survey's most striking findings is that although these people continue to maintain a high level of trust in the president and his administration, their support for the government's Iraq policy and for the policy of exporting democracy has cooled.

And, apropos of yesterday's post, Yankelovich sees energy independence as a rapidly rising priority of Americans:

No change is more striking than that relating to the public's opinion of U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Americans have grown much more worried that problems abroad may affect the price of oil. The proportion of those who said they "worry a lot" about this occurring has increased from 42 percent to 55 percent. Nearly nine out of ten Americans asked were worried about the problem -- putting oil dependence at the top of our 18-issue "worry scale." Virtually all Americans surveyed (90 percent) said they see the United States' lack of energy independence as jeopardizing the country's security, 88 percent said they believe that problems abroad could endanger the United States' supply of oil and so raise prices for U.S. consumers, and 85 percent said they believe that the U.S. government would be capable of doing something about the problem if it tried. This last belief may be the reason that only 20 percent of those surveyed gave the government an A or a B on this issue; three-quarters assigned the government's performance a C, a D, or an F.

We may be witnessing the initial rumblings of a political earthquake. As Yankelovich notes:

The oil-dependency issue now meets all the criteria for having reached the tipping point: an overwhelming majority expresses concern about the issue, the intensity of the public's unease has reached significant levels, and the public believes the government is capable of addressing the issue far more effectively than it has until now. Should the price of gasoline drop over the coming months, this issue may temporarily lose some of its political weight. But with supplies of oil tight and geopolitical tensions high, public pressure is likely to grow.

Yankelovich also discusses public attitudes about the Iraq war, outsourcing and illegal immigration --- and the Administration will find scant comfort in these trends, either. The entire article is recommended to Dems who want to get a better handle on recent public opinion trends on key foreign policy issues.