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12 July 2019

In the Washington Post article, “Trump and His Advisors are Probably Wrong About What Foreign Policy American’s Want,” Strauss Distinguished Scholar, Joshua Busby, and his co-authors, Dina Smelz and Jordan Tama, present the results of their survey of foreign policy opinion leaders. Their results show that most opinion leaders perceive that Americans are a lot less enthusiastic about trade, foreign aid, and military intervention than they actually are. Therefore, Trump will think about how his decisions will be perceived by the public, but does not understand what Americans actually want.

The survey was conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the University of Texas. They surveyed 588 foreign policy opinion leaders from August 2 to October 16, 2018. Busby and his colleagues realized that these leaders had the following misconceptions about the United States Public:

  • The U.S. public doesn’t support international engagement.
  • The U.S. public opposes trade.
  • The U.S. public won’t support military intervention.
  • Americans want to deport undocumented workers.

Next, the authors discuss reasons why foreign policy leaders may be so wrong on what the public opinion actually is. The first possibility is that sometimes foreign policy opinion polls are wrong. However, this used to be a much greater problem than it is today. Second, they base their opinions on “vocal publics.” Lastly, interest groups and congressional staffers' own biases influence opinion leaders’ perceptions. Busby and his co-authors end the article by suggesting that 2020 candidates should be aware of this discrepancy and take it into consideration while making foreign policy decisions.

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