More Americans Think Foreign Policy Should Be a Top US Priority for 2024, an AP-NORC Poll Finds

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, Pool, File
President Joe Biden sits on a train as he goes over his speech marking the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine after a surprise visit with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023, in Kyiv.

WASHINGTON (AP) — In this time of war overseas, more Americans think foreign policy should be a top focus for the U.S. government in 2024, with a new poll showing international concerns and immigration rising in importance with the public.

About 4 in 10 U.S. adults named foreign policy topics in an open-ended question that asked people to share up to five issues for the government to work on in the next year, according to a December poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

That’s about twice as many who mentioned the topic in the AP-NORC poll conducted last year.

Long-standing economic worries still overshadow other issues. But the new poll’s findings point to increased concern about U.S. involvement overseas — 20% voiced that sentiment in the poll, versus 5% a year ago.

It also shows that the Israeli-Hamas war is feeding public anxiety. The conflict was mentioned by 5%, while almost no one cited it a year ago. The issue has dominated geopolitics since Israel declared war on Hamas in Gaza after that group’s Oct. 7 attack on Israeli soil.

Four percent of U.S. adults mentioned the conflict between Russia and Ukraine as something for their government to focus on this year. That’s similar to the 6% who mentioned it at the end of 2022.

Foreign policy has gained importance among respondents from both parties. Some 46% of Republicans named it, up from 23% last year. And 34% of Democrats list foreign policy as a focal point, compared with 16% a year ago.

Warren E. Capito, a Republican from Gordonsville, Virginia, worries China could soon invade Taiwan, creating a third major potential source of global conflict for the U.S. “They would love to have us split three ways,” he said of China, and “we’re already spread so thin.”

Immigration is also a rising bipartisan concern.

Overall, the poll found that concerns about immigration climbed to 35% from 27% last year. Most Republicans, 55%, say the government needs to focus on immigration in 2024, while 22% of Democrats listed immigration as a priority. That’s up from 45% and 14%, respectively, compared with December 2022.

Janet Brewer has lived all her life in San Diego, across from Tijuana, Mexico, and said the situation on the border has deteriorated in recent years.

“It’s a disaster,” said Brewer, 69, who works part time after running a secretarial and legal and medical transcription small business. “It’s crazy.”

The politics of foreign military aid and immigration policy are entangled, with President Joe Biden ‘s administration promoting a $110 billion package that includes aid for Ukraine and Israel that remains stalled in Congress while Republicans push for a deal allowing major changes in immigration policy and stricter enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Brewer said she wouldn’t vote for Biden or a Republican for president in 2024, and may opt for independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr. But she also questions whether a change in the White House would necessarily improve immigration policy.

As for foreign aid, she said: “I know that we need to help. But come on. We’ve done enough.”

Even as immigration and foreign policy rose as concerns, those issues were no match for worries about the economy. Inflation has fallen, unemployment is low and the U.S. has repeatedly defied predictions of a recession — yet this poll adds to a string of them showing a gloomy outlook on the economy.

Some 76% of U.S. adults said this time that they want the government to work on issues related to the economy in 2024, nearly the same as the 75% who said so at this point in 2022.

About 85% of Republicans and 65% of Democrats name the economy as a top issue. But Republicans are more likely than Democrats to want the government to address some specific economic issues: on inflation 41% vs. 22% and on government spending or debt, 22% vs. 7%.

Meanwhile, 3 in 10 U.S. adults listed inflation as an issue that the government should focus on, unchanged from 2022.

The economy is a top issue mentioned by 18- to 29-year-olds (84%), followed by inflation specifically (39%), personal finances issues (38%) and foreign policy (34%). In the same age bracket, 32% mentioned education or school loans as something for the government to address in 2024. That’s despite the Biden administration trying new, more modest efforts to cancel debts after the Supreme Court struck down its larger original push.

Among those 30 and older, only 19% mention student loans. But Travis Brown, a 32-year-old forklift operator in Las Vegas, noted that he’s back to getting calls seeking payment of his student loans.

“Right now, with the economy, wages are not matching,” Brown said. “Blue collar’s going away and I don’t see how that’s going to boost an economy. An economy thrives off the working class. Not off the rich.”

Brown also suggested that the U.S. is too focused on shipping aid to its overseas allies.

“I care about others, I do,” he said. “But when you sit here and say, ‘I just sent $50 million over to Israel’ and then I go outside and I see half a neighborhood rundown … you’ve got to take care of home.”

One possible sign that larger sentiments on the economy could be improving slightly is that overall mentions of personal financial issues declined some, with 30% mentioning them now compared with 37% last year. Drops occurred for Democrats, 27% vs. 33%, and among Republicans, falling to 30% compared with 37% in 2022.

One-quarter of U.S. adults say 2024 will be a better year than 2023 for them personally, and 24% expect it will be a worse year. Some 37% of Republicans expect it’ll be a worse year for them, compared with 20% of independents and 13% of Democrats.

Just 5% of U.S. adults are “extremely” or “very” confident that the federal government can make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2024, with 7% of Democrats and 11% of independents being optimistic, compared with 1% of Republicans.

Brown is a Democrat but said he was disillusioned enough to perhaps sit out the presidential election — especially if it proves to be a 2020 rematch between Biden and former President Donald Trump, who has built a commanding early lead in the 2024 Republican primary.

“I don’t think I will participate and maybe that’s bad,” Brown said. “But, it’s like, you’re losing faith.”