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Growing Minority Wants Minimal U.S. Role in World Affairs

Growing Minority Wants Minimal U.S. Role in World Affairs

Republicans' support for heavy U.S. engagement is down from Bush years

PRINCETON, NJ -- By a 2-to-1 margin, 66% to 32%, Americans would prefer that the United States be a major rather than a minor player on the world stage in trying to solve international problems. Support for the United States' having a leading or major role in this has diminished over the past two years, falling from 75% in 2009, while the percentage favoring a more isolationist stance has increased from 23%.

2001-2011 Trend: Americans' Preferred Role for U.S. in World Affairs

The results are from Gallup's annual World Affairs survey, conducted Feb. 2-5. The 66% favoring an active role for the United States consists of 16% saying the country should take the leading role in world affairs and 50% saying it should play a major role. Just 7% say the U.S. should not be involved, while 25% would prefer a minor role for it.

Support for Heavy U.S. Involvement Down Among All Party Groups

At 68%, Republicans' current support for an active U.S. role internationally is at its lowest level since the inception of this Gallup trend in 2001, after several years of decline. It was routinely above 80% from 2002 through 2008, spanning the post-9/11 period of George W. Bush's presidency.

Democrats' support for heavy U.S. engagement is lower than it was two years ago -- when it peaked at 80% at the start of Barack Obama's presidency -- but is now similar to the level seen for much of the prior decade.

Political independents continue to be the least inclined to want the U.S. heavily involved in solving world problems, as they were in each of the past two years. The 62% favoring this is a new low.

2001-2011 Trend: Americans' Preferred Role for United States in World Affairs, by Party ID

Bottom Line

Most Americans today want the United States to be highly engaged in world affairs, while those favoring a constrained role remain in the minority. However, the percentage of Americans preferring a more limited U.S. role has grown over the past two years, rising to the highest level since 2001. This has occurred at the same time that the United States has ceased combat operations in Iraq and experienced a prolonged period of economic difficulty, events that might be expected to shift Americans' focus from global concerns to the home front.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 2-5, 2011, with a random sample of 1,015 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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