The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

On Obama, survey shows yawning gap between foreign-policy elite and general public

Are you a fan of Barack Obama‘s handling of major foreign-policy issues so far? If so, there’s a greater chance that you are a member of the Council on Foreign Relations than a member of the general public. A new survey being released today by CFR and the Pew Research Center for the People & ...

576030_091203_obamapodium2.jpg
WEST POINT, NY - DECEMBER 01: U.S. President Barack Obama waves at the conclusion of his speech at the US Military Academy at West Point on December 1, 2009 in West Point, New York. President Obama laid out his plan for an initial increase of some 30,000 troops in an effort to eventually begin to transition U.S. forces out of Afghanistan starting in July 2011. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Are you a fan of Barack Obama's handling of major foreign-policy issues so far? If so, there's a greater chance that you are a member of the Council on Foreign Relations than a member of the general public.

A new survey being released today by CFR and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows that members of the Washington elite view the U.S. president's stewardship of American foreign policy in a much more favorable light than the average observer on the street. On issues ranging from terrorism to climate change, Iran, Iraq, China, Guantánamo, even immigration, CFR members surveyed overwhelmingly approved of the president's actions so far. Joe Sixpack? Not so much.

"The public expresses mixed views of Barack Obama's foreign policy performance so far," says the survey report, an advance copy of which was obtained by The Cable, "More approve than disapprove of his handling of terrorist threats and global climate change, but the balance of public opinion is negative when it comes to his handling of immigration policy, Afghanistan, Iraq and his decision to close the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay."

Are you a fan of Barack Obama‘s handling of major foreign-policy issues so far? If so, there’s a greater chance that you are a member of the Council on Foreign Relations than a member of the general public.

A new survey being released today by CFR and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows that members of the Washington elite view the U.S. president’s stewardship of American foreign policy in a much more favorable light than the average observer on the street. On issues ranging from terrorism to climate change, Iran, Iraq, China, Guantánamo, even immigration, CFR members surveyed overwhelmingly approved of the president’s actions so far. Joe Sixpack? Not so much.

“The public expresses mixed views of Barack Obama’s foreign policy performance so far,” says the survey report, an advance copy of which was obtained by The Cable, “More approve than disapprove of his handling of terrorist threats and global climate change, but the balance of public opinion is negative when it comes to his handling of immigration policy, Afghanistan, Iraq and his decision to close the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay.”

“Members of the Council on Foreign Relations offer far more positive assessments of Obama’s foreign policy in almost all areas.”

Entitled “America’s Place in the World,” the survey polled more than 600 members of CFR and 2,000 members of the general public, comparing expert and amateur perceptions of not only Obama’s performance one year in, but also their views on many of the top foreign-policy issues of the day.

The disparity was actually quite large. For example, 83 percent and 81 percent of CFR members approved of Obama’s handling of Iraq and Guantánamo, respectively, whereas the general public gave approval ratings of 41 and 39 percent on those issues.

Obama’s work on Iran, climate change, terrorism, and China were all rated in the 70s by the experts, dozens of points higher than when rated by people without a full-time job in foreign affairs. Only 33 percent of the ordinary Americans surveyed praised Obama’s work related to the rise of China.

The one issue where both groups have a majority negative opinion of Obama’s foreign policy? Afghanistan. Only 42 percent of CFR members and 36 percent of the general public approved of Obama’s work on that issue, although to be fair, that was before he announced his new strategy on Tuesday.

Predictably, the range of opinions in the general public fell largely along party lines. Interestingly, “On several issues, the ratings offered by independents are substantially closer to the views of Republicans than the views of Democrats,” the survey reports.

With the experts, that’s hard to tell because the CFR members weren’t required to identify their political affiliations. But, “[w]hen asked to name the best things about Obama’s handling of foreign policy, Council on Foreign Relations members overwhelmingly cite the administration’s emphasis on engagement and diplomacy.”

The experts also seemed to focus on optics rather than results: 80 percent said they approved of Obama’s decision to alter missile-defense plans in Eastern Europe and 59 percent liked his Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy.

Andrew Kohut is President of the Pew Research Center, which conducted the survey, and James M. Lindsay  is Director of Studies art CFR.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

More from Foreign Policy

Bill Clinton and Joe Biden  at a meeting of the U.S. Congressional delegation to the NATO summit in Spain on July 7, 1998.

Liberal Illusions Caused the Ukraine Crisis

The greatest tragedy about Russia’s potential invasion is how easily it could have been avoided.

A report card is superimposed over U.S. President Joe Biden.

Is Biden’s Foreign Policy Grade A Material?

More than 30 experts grade the U.S. president’s first year of foreign policy.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan gives a press briefing.

Defining the Biden Doctrine

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan sat down with FP to talk about Russia, China, relations with Europe, and year one of the Biden presidency.

Ukrainian servicemen taking part in the armed conflict with Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk region of the country attend the handover ceremony of military heavy weapons and equipment in Kiev on November 15, 2018.

The West’s Weapons Won’t Make Any Difference to Ukraine

U.S. military equipment wouldn’t realistically help Ukrainians—or intimidate Putin.