A majority of Americans believe the US plays a less important and powerful role in the world than it did 10 years ago, according to a long-running study that found that most people now believe America should “mind its own business internationally”.
It is the first time the survey of US foreign policy attitudes has recorded such a sentiment in almost four decades of polling.
The findings, published on Tuesday by the Pew Research Center in association with the Council on Foreign Relations, suggest Americans want their leaders to adopt a less interventionist approach, although there is a growing desire for the development of stronger trade and business links abroad.
The US is now widely seen as less respected abroad, bucking a trend in which Americans believed their reputation had recovered since Barack Obama was elected. Impressions of how the US is perceived under Obama are now, broadly, as negative as they were in the final days of the George W Bush administration.
That may stem partly from a belief that America’s power is in decline. According to the poll, Americans’ views about the geopolitical clout of their country has reached a historic low, with a majority (53%) for the first time believing that the US plays a less important role than it did 10 years ago. The proportion saying the US is less, rather than more, powerful has increased 12 points since 2009 and has more than doubled – from just 20% – since 2004.
The survey was conducted in a year in which the US pulled back from a military intervention in Syria, chose a diplomatic route to secure a nuclear deal with Iran and sought to contain the international fallout over disclosures by whistleblower Edward Snowden about the reach and nature of surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency.
The American public appears generally divided over Snowden’s leaks, and on related questions about the correct balance between security and civil liberties. Most of those questioned (55%) said Snowden’s revelations, which were first published in the Guardian in June, had “harmed the public interest”, although a sizeable minority of 34% said the whistleblower had “served the public interest”.
Perhaps surprisingly, the proportion of Americans who said the government’s anti-terror policies have gone too far in restricting civil liberties of average people has declined slightly since July, from 47% to 44%.