Americans Want to Engage the World

Americans Want to Engage the World

The Beltway and the Public Are Closer Than You Think

It has become an accepted truth in recent years that the U.S. foreign policy establishment is disconnected from the broader American public. In this view, the denizens of the Washington Beltway remain committed to an expansive U.S. role on the international stage even as average Americans increasingly want the United States to mind its own business and care for its own citizens. According to Stephen M. Walt, for example, “an out-of-touch community of foreign policy VIPs” has led U.S. foreign policy astray. Republican candidate Donald Trump exploited this supposed divide during his 2016 campaign, riding to the presidency on what was said to be a popular backlash against the internationalism of Washington elites.

But is the U.S. foreign policy establishment really out of touch with the American public? To answer this question, we recently surveyed more than 800 members of the U.S. foreign policy elite, including executive branch officials, congressional staff, think tank scholars, academics, journalists, and employees of internationally oriented interest groups. Together, these foreign policy opinion leaders play a large role in foreign policy debates, shaping agendas, opinion, and, ultimately, the policy decisions of the U.S. government.