Poll: War on terror tops list of foreign priorities

Americans say preventing terrorism should be the country’s top foreign policy initiative, according to a Gallup survey released Wednesday.

It’s the 10th consecutive year that preventing terrorism has edged out preventing the spread of nuclear weapons at the top of the list of foreign policy concerns.

According to the survey, 88 percent ranked preventing terrorism as “very important,” while 83 percent cited preventing the spread of nuclear weapons as a top priority. 

Eighty-two percent of people said it was very important to secure adequate energy supplies for the U.S. and 66 percent said it was important to promote favorable trade policies. Sixty percent said it was very important to defend the security of U.S. allies, 58 percent cited pursuit of world cooperation through the United Nations and 52 percent want the U.S. to defend human rights in other countries.

“Americans are most likely to say that international issues that have a real or potential direct effect on the U.S. should be very important foreign policy goals for the country,” Jeffrey M. Jones at Gallup wrote. “They give a lower priority to matters that involve the U.S. assisting other countries. These preferences have been stable over the past 12 years Gallup has asked this question.”

The only two goals that did not break the “very important” threshold by a majority of those surveyed were promoting economic development in other countries and helping other countries build democracies. Only 31 percent believed those goals were a high priority. 

“That is not to say Americans are highly isolationist, as two-thirds or more believe a variety of actions designed to help out other countries are at least somewhat important for the U.S. to do,” Jones continued. “But on a relative basis, Americans show much more consensus on prioritizing foreign policy matters that have a more obvious effect on the U.S.”

The Gallup survey of 1,015 adults was conducted between Feb. 7 and Feb. 10 and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.