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Public Opinion on U.S. Foreign Policy — What Is It, and How Does It Matter?

Although it has been studied intensely by political scientists, the relationship between public opinion and U.S. foreign policy remains murky. Today, pundits argue about whether an “Iraq syndrome” among the public is inhibiting the Obama administration from going to war with Syria. Public anxiety about the debt and deficit has led to increased support for cutting military spending. In this context, a growing number of scholars and academics are calling for Washington to adopt a grand strategy of restraint. Does the public support the existing strategy, or is it more in alignment with restraint? What does the public believe America’s role in the world should be? Should presidents listen to public opinion regarding foreign‐​policy decisions? Must they?

A. Trevor Thrall

Trevor Thrall is a senior fellow for Cato Institute’s Defense and Foreign Policy Department.

Danny Hayes
Richard Wike