Snap Poll: What Experts Make of Trump’s Foreign Policy
International relations scholars evaluate two years of U.S. foreign policy.
Nearly two years after U.S. President Donald Trump took office, how has America’s place in the world changed? To find out, the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) project at the College of William & Mary, in collaboration with Foreign Policy, surveyed international relations scholars at U.S. universities in the last week of October. These results are based on responses from the 1,157 scholars who responded to our invitation to participate in the survey.
Below are a selection of some of the survey results, with our interpretations. The complete TRIP snap poll results can be viewed here.
An overwhelming majority of international relations scholars surveyed in our snap poll said that the United States is less respected internationally today than in the past. Of those respondents, a resounding 99 percent agree that this loss of respect is a problem for the United States.
When we asked respondents to compare Trump’s exercise of presidential power during his first term to the three previous presidents, the consensus was less pronounced. A plurality of respondents believe that the powers of the presidency have remained the same, while 32 percent think presidential powers have increased and 20 percent think they’ve decreased. Scholars agree that Trump’s first term in office has weakened the United States’ international reputation, but his lasting impact on the reach of the presidency is open to debate.
The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Overwhelmingly, international relations scholars believe that the United States should act decisively in response to the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an act now confirmed to be directly connected to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Two of the most popular opinions have already been put into motion: The Trump administration passed targeted sanctions on 17 Saudis accused of involvement in the murder, and the Senate voted last month to advance a bill to end U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen. As foreign-policy scholar Jordan Tama notes, “If Congress approves the resolution—which is opposed by Trump and still faces major legislative hurdles—it would mark the first time that lawmakers have formally terminated a U.S. military engagement since ending the U.S. war in Vietnam. And it would signal quite strongly that Congress will no longer tolerate business as usual with Saudi Arabia.”
In another example of their skepticism about U.S. foreign policy, 87 percent of respondents believe it is unlikely the Trump administration’s strategy toward North Korea will lead Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons, which is the stated goal of U.S. policy. The U.S. president has said he “fell in love” with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un after meeting in June and exchanging “beautiful letters,” presumably on the subject of denuclearization. Recent satellite images and analysis suggest those letters may not be having their intended effect, however, and that the experts may be right: North Korea is not denuclearizing and instead is ramping up production of nuclear warheads.
Since U.S. scholars decisively support free trade, it’s not surprising that they also believe in large numbers that Trump’s tariffs on Chinese products and materials will hurt the U.S. economy. Trump’s recent Twitter proclamation—“I am a Tariff man”—shows him doubling down on his protectionist position in opposition to the views of experts.
Scholars are divided on the exact action the United States should take in response to China’s increased spending on foreign aid, but a tiny 1.9 percent believe the United States should decrease its own foreign aid spending. Again, this policy position is in stark contrast to the efforts by the Trump administration to dramatically cut U.S. foreign aid spending. The largest group of respondents—39 percent—instead favor increasing foreign aid spending to compete with China.
Trump has been openly disdainful of many multilateral institutions established by the United States and its allies to build and sustain the postwar liberal international order. Again, expert views are diametrically opposed to those of the president; scholars of international relations are nearly unanimous in their belief that multilateral institutions benefit the United States, which is consistent with earlier research on this topic.
One multilateral institution that has been a particular target for Trump is NATO. The president has criticized the scale of U.S. contributions to NATO and the contributions of allied governments. Trump has also threatened to withdraw from the pact. Our respondents affirm the importance of NATO to the United States: 92 percent agree that the treaty enhances U.S. security today, and 94 percent oppose U.S. withdrawal.
Graphics by C.K. Hickey.
Eric Parajon is a recent graduate of William & Mary and is currently a project manager for the Teaching, Research, and International Policy Project.
Susan Peterson is the Wendy and Emery Reves professor of government and international relations and the co-director of the Global Research Institute at William & Mary.
Ryan Powers is an assistant professor of international affairs in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia.