US soldiers head out on patrol from Forward Operating Base Shank near Pul-e Alam, Afghanistan. A poll has found skepticism about use of US military force abroad. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — A new poll finds most Americans deeply skeptical about the effectiveness of US military force and eager for an increased focus on domestic affairs.
The Pew Research Center surveyed more than 10,000 American adults over recent months, and found conservatives are far more likely to believe overwhelming US military force often is the best option, even while wanting Washington to focus more on domestic affairs.
Seventy-one percent of what Pew dubs “steadfast conservatives” believe America should focus more on issues at home than abroad, with 38 percent of “solid liberals” believing same. Fifty-five percent of “solid liberals” believe it is better for the United States to be active in global affairs.
Notably, the Pew poll discovered major fissures within conservative ranks. Sixty-seven percent of “business conservatives” sided with liberals in favoring an active US in world affairs.
The two conservative factions also split on whether US involvement in global affairs makes things better or worse. Fifty-five percent of “steadfast conservatives” believe US actions make global problems worse, but 74 percent of the business group believe that without American action, things would get worse.
The poll, released Thursday, comes as the 2016 presidential race is slowly beginning. The contest is expected to include a robust debate about whether the US should pull back from the world stage or become more involved, and the answer to that question, which will come in the form of which party wins the White House, will help decide future military spending levels.
Pew released the poll just as lawmakers are headed home to campaign for November’s midterm elections during a week-long July 4 recess, and just weeks before campaigning will reach a fever pitch during an August-long recess period.
Its results show pro-defense lawmakers up for re-election will find constituents more eager for candidates with something to say about solving America’s domestic policy puzzles than ones abroad. The dynamic could pose trouble for some of the defense sector’s longtime allies.
Asked if military strength or good diplomacy is the best way to achieve peace, 71 percent of “steadfast conservatives” and 67 percent of “business conservatives” believe the answer should be US military might.
On the same question, 91 percent of “solid liberals” went with good diplomacy, with no liberal subgroup exceeding 28 percent siding with military strength.
Conservatives and liberals also split sharply on how to best fight terrorism.
Seventy-two percent of “steadfast conservatives” and 68 percent of “business conservatives” believe “overwhelming force” is the best approach. Eighty-eight percent of “solid liberals” said force makes the problem worse by sowing new seeds of hatred, joined by 71 percent of a group dubbed the “next-generation left.”
Pew found those falling in the center of the political spectrum overwhelmingly believe force breeds new terrorism-spawning hatred.
While conservatives and liberals were split on most issues, when the groups were combined for overall results Pew found the American mood skeptical of military force and inclined to focus on the home front.
Pew found “continued wariness about U.S. global involvement.”
“In the poll, conducted January through March of this year, 60 percent say the US should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems here at home, while just 35 percent say it’s best for the future of the country to be active in world affairs.
“Most Americans see good diplomacy (62 percent) rather than military strength (30 percent) as the best way to ensure peace,” according to Pew. “This view is held by most typology groups. … Among the public generally, just 37 percent say using overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism, while a majority (57 percent) says ‘relying too much on military force creates hatred that leads to more terrorism’.” ■