Misreading the Public

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Do American policymakers really know what the American public wants in U.S. foreign policy? Through extensive interviews with members of the policy community, the authors reveal a pervasive belief —especially in Congress —that, in the wake of the cold war, the public is showing a new isolationism: opposition to foreign aid, hostility to the United Nations, and aversion to contributing U.S. troops to peacekeeping operations. This view of the public has in turn had a significant impact on U.S. foreign policy.

However, through a comprehensive review of polling data, as well as focus groups, the authors show that all these beliefs about the public are myths. The public does complain that the United States is playing the role of dominant world leader more than it should, but this does not lead to a desire to withdraw. Instead people prefer to share responsibility with other nations, particularly through the UN.

The authors offer explanations of how such a misperception can occur and suggest ways to improve communication between the public and policymakers, including better presentation of polling data and more attention by practitioners to a wider public.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"...a deeply insightful discussion of American concerns with multilateralism.
" —Jonathan D. Tepperman, Washington Monthly, Washington Monthly

"This is an outstanding study well worth reading.
" —Benjamin I. Page, Bulletin of the American Scientists

Charles William Maynes
Misreading the Public marks a watershed because at least no one can any longer claim ignorance of what is going on...
The Washington Monthly
Pointing out a considerable discrepancy between data from interviews with policy makers and data from polls and focus groups, argues that Americans do not in fact want to pull back from the world as politicians seem to think. Finds that though people complain about the US playing global alpha male more than is called for, they do want to address world problems, but by working together with other countries, particularly through the United Nations. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknew.com)
Charles William Maynes
Misreading the Public marks a watershed because at least no one can any longer claim ignorance of what is going on...
The Washington Monthly
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815717669
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Pages: 312
  • Lexile: 1430L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven Kull, a political psychologist, is director of the Program on International Public Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland and WorldPublicOpinion.org, an international project studying public opinion around the world. He comanages the international polling for BBC World Service. His previous books include Misreading the Public: The Myth of a New Isolationism (Brookings, 1999), written with I.M. Destler. He regularly appears in the U.S. and international media and has briefed Congress, the State Department, NATO, the United Nations, and the European Commission. His articles have appeared in Political Science Quarterly, Foreign Policy, Public Opinion Quarterly, Harpers, the Washington Post, and other publications. I. M. Destler is professor and director of the Program on International Security and Economic Policy at the School of Public Affairs, University of Maryland.

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Table of Contents

Foreword 1
1 The Puzzle 9
2 America's Role in Today's World 35
3 The United Nations 59
4 UN Peacekeeping 81
5 Foreign Aid 113
6 Defense Spending 134
7 Letting Policy Practitioners Ask the Questions 153
8 How the Public Makes Budgetary Trade-Offs 179
9 Does Congress Mirror the Public? 193
10 Why Do Policy Practitioners Misperceive the Public? 207
11 Why Doesn't Politics Close the Gap? 229
12 Putting the Puzzle Together 249
Appendix Design of the Study 267
Notes 277
Index 303
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