WASHINGTON (AP) — Foreign policy used to be a bright spot in Americans’ dimming opinion of President Barack Obama. Not anymore. Associated Press-GfK polling found a spring and summer of discontent with the president’s handling of world events.
Obama’s consistently low marks across crises such as the fighting in Ukraine and the conflict between Israel and Hamas could benefit Republicans aiming to win control Congress in the fall.
“The problem is saying something and not doing anything – making grandiose threats and never following any of them up,” said Dwight Miller, 71, a retiree and volunteer firefighter in Robertson County, Texas. Miller, who describes himself as a libertarian-leaning Republican, says Obama should either stay out of other nations’ business or commit to going “all in.”
In Hawaii, another retiree, Kent Killam, also worries about the U.S. response to cascading troubles in Ukraine, the Middle East and elsewhere. But he blames former President George W. Bush for eroding the nation’s clout abroad and Republican lawmakers for limiting Obama’s ability to act.
“I’m not saying it’s going well at all,” said Killam, 72, a Democratic-leaning independent. “On the other hand, I don’t think he has too many options.”
The foreign conflicts that have consumed so much of Washington’s attention lately aren’t rated as especially pressing by most Americans surveyed for the AP-GfK poll. It’s unclear how their unhappiness with Obama’s performance will affect the midterm elections in November.
Asked about world trouble spots:
-42 percent say the conflict between Israel and Hamas is “very” or “extremely” important to them; 60 percent disapprove of the way Obama has handled it.
-40 percent consider the situation in Afghanistan highly important; 60 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of it.
-38 percent give high importance to the conflict in Ukraine; 57 percent disapprove of what Obama has done about that.
-38 percent find the situation in Iraq of pressing importance; 57 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of it.
Opinion of Obama’s foreign policy has slid nearly as low as his overall approval rating.
Just 43 percent were OK with the president’s handling of foreign relations in the new poll, while 40 percent approved how he’s doing his job overall. AP-GfK polls in March and May show a similar picture.
The late-March poll, which came after Russia seized upon an uprising in Ukraine to annex the Crimean Peninsula, marked a significant drop from January’s 49 percent foreign policy rating. In September 2012, shortly before Obama’s re-election, it was 57 percent.
Republicans line up more uniformly behind their party on foreign policy than Democrats do.
Asked whom they trust more to protect the country, 71 percent of Republicans chose their party. Only 39 percent of Democrats said their party most; about as many Democrats trusted both parties equally.
Sixty-three percent of Republicans have more confidence in their party in an international crisis, while 44 percent of Democrats put faith in their party alone. Most Democrats did prefer their party for managing the U.S. image abroad – 51 percent said it would handle that better.
About half of independents don’t trust either major party in a world crisis.
“I think they’re both a little bit more aggressive than they need to be in using armies instead of going through the U.N.,” said Cameron Wooley, 18, of Orlando, Florida, who’s still deciding whom to support when she votes for the first time this year.
“Maybe if we didn’t spend these massive chunks of our budget on the military we wouldn’t have the other concerns we have because of money,” Wooley said. An aspiring opera singer attending the University of North Florida in the fall, she would like to see some of that defense money handed over to the states to spend on things like education and roads.
Only about half of those polled see foreign relations as highly important right now, and concern about the United States’ relationship with other countries hasn’t increased despite recent news.
Jay Lofstead, a Democrat in Albuquerque, New Mexico, wants to see more involvement in the world’s problems, and he gives Obama a mixed review.
“I’d like to see him get more involved on a humanitarian basis in more areas, not military support – no financial support, no weapons – but strictly humanitarian aid,” said Lofstead, 44, a supercomputer researcher at Sandia National Laboratories, who stressed that he speaks only for himself.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents. It is larger for subgroups.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.