Foreign Policy Worldviews and US Standing in the World


What do Americans think about the US role in world affairs and why do they think as they do? Existing scholarship identifies some general attitudes Americans hold toward world affairs, rejecting isolationism and favoring multilateralism, but few studies explore more specific attitudes such as assessments of US standing in the world (defined as foreign views of America’s capability, credibility and esteem abroad). American National Election Study data from 1958-2008 provide one such data point, which shows a strong correlation between party identification and attitudes toward US standing defined as weakness. When Democrats occupy the White House, Republicans generally see US standing falling. The reverse holds true when Republicans hold the White House. Past studies conclude that this correlation is primarily a matter of partisanship and domestic political ideology (conservative vs. liberal). In this article we investigate a deeper and more novel explanation rooted in the independent influence of individuals’ foreign policy worldviews. Respondents assess US standing based on nationalist, realist, conservative and liberal internationalist views of the world. Across multiple statistical investigations, we find that while party ID remains a powerful heuristic for defining attitudes toward standing, foreign policy worldviews also exert a distinct influence on such attitudes, especially for more politically sophisticated respondents.