New Rasmussen Poll Finds Modest Support for Restraint

A just-released Rasmussen survey finds that nearly half of all American voters would withdraw troops from Europe and Japan, but fewer than one in three favor leaving U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula. This portion of the survey is attracting most of the attention, but the survey as a whole reveals some modest public support for a strategy of restraint, one in which the U.S. military focuses primarily on defending U.S. security and core interests, and calls on other countries to play a larger role in their own defense.

For example, when asked “Should the U.S. military strategy be to focus narrowly on defending the United States and U.S. interests, or should the U.S. military strategy seek to maintain worldwide stability and peace?” a solid majority of likely voters (55 percent) agreed with the former, with just 34 percent wishing to be the world’s policeman. Other polls have shown even less support for the globo-cop role (e.g. here).

On this point, and the related one of allowing wealthy allies to defend themselves, I was able to drill down in the cross tabs a bit, and I found a few suprising areas of divergence between likely voters, former military, and self-identified members of the Tea Party movement.

There is some obvious overlap in the survey among these three groups (e.g. 30 percent of former military people self-identify as Tea Partiers, compared with just 18 percent of likely voters). Tea Partiers are more likely than LVs to agree with the statement U.S. military strategy should  “Focus narrowly on defending the United States and U.S. interests” (66 pct vs. 55 pct), but they are less likely to support removing U.S. troops from Europe (40 pct. vs. 49 pct). Also interesting, this is one of the few areas where the former military members agree more with LVs than Tea Partiers. Those who have served in the military align with TPers (within the margin of error, +/- 3 pct, 95 pct confidence interval) on the question of focusing on defending U.S. interests, but agree with LVs that we should withdraw troops from Europe.

One last point: these and other surveys (including an earlier Rasmussen poll) reveal a considerable gap between what the public believes, and what is actually true. For example, when presented with the true/false question “Most federal spending is spent on only three programs—Social Security, Medicare and national defense,” only 40 percent of respondents correctly answered “True” (38 percent said no, and 22 percent were unsure). A solid majority (65 percent) agreed that “the United States military [is] more powerful than any other nation’s military force,” but that still left a troubling 21 percent who disagreed, and another 14 percent whe were unsure.

That means, as I argued here last year, that those of us responsible for explaining public policy still have a lot of work to do.