Public Uncertain, Divided Over America's Place in the World: Growing Support for Increased Defense Spending

May 5, 2016

The public views America's role in the world with considerable apprehension and concern. In fact, most Americans say it would be better if the U.S. just dealt with its own problems and let other countries deal with their own problems as best they can.

With the United States facing an array of global threats, public support for increased defense spending has climbed to its highest level since a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when 50% favored more defense spending.

Currently, 35% say the U.S. should increase spending on national defense, 24% say it should be cut back and 40% say it should be kept about the same as today. The share favoring more defense spending has increased 12 percentage points (from 23%) since 2013.

Most of the increase has come among Republicans. Fully 61% of Republicans favor higher defense spending, up 24 percentage points from 2013. Support for more defense spending has increased much more modestly among other partisan groups. And the gap in support for higher military spending between Republicans and Democrats, which was 25 percentage points three years ago, now stands at 41 points.

This shift underscores the deep partisan and ideological divisions in attitudes about U.S. foreign policy – differences that extend to how to deal with terrorism, the nature of global threats, views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how deeply involved the United States should be in the world.

Amid a presidential campaign that has highlighted conflicting visions about America's global role, many of these differences are reflected in the attitudes of the candidates' supporters in the primary campaigns.

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