Americans see a US in decline, finds Pew survey

A new study by the Pew Research Center asks Americans what they think of their country's role in the world

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For the first time in 40 years, a majority of Americans say the US plays a less important and powerful role in the world than it did a decade ago.

The Pew survey also found that 70% of Americans saw the US as less respected than in the past, nearly the same (71%) as under President George W Bush.

More than half of Americans (52%) - for the first time in 50 years - said the US should "mind its own business".

Some 56% disapproved of President Barack Obama's foreign policy.

Fifty-three percent of the public felt the US played a less important or powerful role as a world leader than a decade previously. The last time more than half of the public held that view was in 1974.

A decade ago, just 20% of Americans felt the same way.

International disengagement

In Tuesday's survey, only 17% of Americans said the US had a more important or powerful role in world affairs than 10 years ago.

Analysis

The results of this Pew survey are a powerful reminder of the strength of perception in peoples' views of the world. That the United States is less dominant and that other countries, notably China, are rising in economic terms, is self-evident.

But the US decline is only relative; projections of China's inexorable rise are all very well but there is no indication as yet that China harbours ambitions of playing the kind of global role traditionally the preserve of Washington. The survey results are arguably the product of two failed wars; political gridlock at home and an uncertain economic outlook.

An overwhelming majority back US economic engagement with the world, while in terms of military and political entanglements there seems to be a growing isolationist mood. As if to confirm this, many of the US public's top foreign policy goals reflect domestic concerns such as protecting against terrorist attack and safeguarding American jobs.

Republicans were more likely to view the US as having declined in influence - 74% of them thought so. But 55% of independents said the same thing, up from 23% in 2004.

The survey also showed support for a less active US in world affairs. Some 51% of respondents said the US does "too much" to solve world problems.

Fifty-three percent of Republicans, 46% of Democrats and 55% of independents said the US should mind its own business.

The public also thought the US should be less engaged internationally.

A plurality of respondents (39%) believed the US should be less involved in seeking to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Some 36% thought Washington's current level of engagement in that issue was enough.

But the survey did not suggest an entirely isolationist outlook was taking hold among Americans.

US support for more participation in the global economy has increased, it found.

Some 77% said the growing trade and business ties between the US and other countries was a good thing.

However, there was a mistaken belief among many that China is the world's top economic power - 48% of respondents thought so. Just 31% correctly said it was the US.

America's gross domestic product is nearly twice that of China, according to World Bank data, although the gap between the two has been closing.

President Obama's foreign policy was approved of by only 34% of respondents in the Pew survey.

The public overwhelmingly viewed dimly his handling of Syria, Iran, China and Afghanistan. Only on terrorism did more respondents approve (51%) than disapprove of his approach.

While Islamic extremist groups such as al-Qaeda were still considered the top threat by survey respondents, 70% ranked cyber-attacks from other countries as a major threat, placing them on par with concerns about Iran and North Korean's nuclear programmes.

The survey of the general public was conducted between 30 October and 6 November among 2,003 adults, said Pew Research Center.

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