Americans’ Views Of Foreign Alliances Growing Increasingly Divided – Analysis


By Kerry Boyd Anderson

Amid struggles in the US Congress to approve funds for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, there are growing questions about the country’s commitment to its allies and partners. This year’s presidential election is likely to exacerbate those uncertainties.

The American public remains broadly supportive of its country’s core alliances. Recent polls indicate that majorities of Americans support the US’ commitment to NATO and see its alliances with East Asian countries as beneficial. Americans are less sure about providing more aid to Ukraine, but a majority continue to back sending assistance.

However, there are growing partisan divides in Americans’ views of alliances. Voters in both parties tend to support the alliance with NATO, but Republican backing for the alliance is notably softer. A February Gallup poll found that 53 percent of Democrats support the current level of US commitment to NATO and 27 percent want to increase commitment. While 46 percent of Republicans support the current level, 26 percent want to see a decrease.

The Chicago Council Survey reported in September that 92 percent of Democrats want to maintain or increase the commitment to NATO, compared to 68 percent of Republicans. The survey noted that, in 1974, there was very little difference between the parties, with Republicans slightly more supportive of NATO than Democrats. However, since 1998, the gap has grown, as Democrats’ attitudes toward NATO became increasingly positive.

Voters in both parties tend to have a favorable view of US alliances with East Asian countries, but Democrats are more strongly supportive. The Chicago Council Survey found that 70 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans see those alliances as beneficial for US interests. A recent study in the Texas National Security Review, “Alliance Commitment in an Era of Partisan Polarization,” suggested that Republicans and Democrats tend to support the alliance with South Korea but that Democratic support was stronger.

The partisan gap is especially notable when it comes to Ukraine. Polling from multiple sources shows declining Republican support for Ukraine since the war began, while Democrats tend to continue backing Kyiv. A February poll from The Associated Press-NORC found that 55 percent of Republicans say that Washington is spending too much to help Ukraine, compared to only 17 percent of Democrats who agree. A November Gallup poll found an even bigger gap, with 62 percent of Republicans saying that the US is doing too much, compared to 14 percent of Democrats.

There are some important nuances. There are differences within the parties; for example, a survey from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that a majority of Republicans who are fans of former President Donald Trump oppose aid to Ukraine, while a majority of Republicans who hold only “somewhat favorable” or “unfavorable” views of Trump support continued assistance.

Polls show that independent voters, who do not affiliate with either party, often fall somewhere in between Democrats and Republicans in their attitudes toward alliances. Nonetheless, Democrats are clearly more supportive of traditional alliances in Western Europe and East Asia than their Republican counterparts.

There are multiple potential explanations for these shifts in views among the American public. One major factor is the rhetoric of party leaders and partisan media. When Trump praises Russian President Vladimir Putin and criticizes the “endless flow of American treasure to Ukraine,” he undermines Republicans’ view of Ukraine as a worthwhile partner. Similarly, when Trump dismisses NATO’s value and questions the military alliance with South Korea, his comments erode many Republicans’ belief in the importance of those alliances. Right-wing media outlets and other Republican politicians amplify Trump’s rhetoric.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden and other Democratic leaders frequently speak about the necessity of supporting Ukraine and the value of alliances in general, including NATO, which reinforces Democrats’ favorable views. Negative partisanship can exacerbate those gaps.

Trump has played a major role in reducing Republican support for Ukraine and some alliances. However, the trend of declining Republican enthusiasm for alliances predates Trump’s political rise. During the Cold War, both Republicans and Democrats saw alliances against the Soviet Union as very valuable. In the aftermath of the Cold War, questions arose about the costs and benefits of those alliances and partisan gaps in views began to expand.

Under President George W. Bush, Republicans strongly embraced unilateralism. They did not reject traditional alliances — indeed, the US worked closely with NATO in Afghanistan — but did deprioritize the importance of working with other countries.

Today, as the world shifts from a unipolar world dominated by the US toward a more multipolar world, many Republicans are questioning how Americans benefit from some of the country’s long-standing partnerships. Meanwhile, an increasing desire among Republicans (and some Democrats) to focus resources domestically rather than abroad is driving demands for other countries to do more for their own security and rely less on the US. These factors make Trump’s willingness to jettison foreign partners more acceptable to Republicans than it might have been in the past.

Changing views of alliances are already affecting US foreign policy. American allies are well aware that, if Trump wins the election, they will again face a president who has little respect for traditional partnerships. That reality is already shaping how those countries form their own foreign policy.

In Congress, many Republicans are increasingly opposed to sending more aid to Ukraine. In February, the Senate passed a bill, with bipartisan support, to provide funding for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, but it faces steep opposition in the Republican-led House — another example of how Republicans are increasingly deprioritizing alliances and partnerships abroad.

  • Kerry Boyd Anderson is a professional analyst of international security issues and Middle East political and business risk. X: @KBAresearch

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