Cover image for Misreading the public : the myth of a new isolationism
Misreading the public : the myth of a new isolationism
Kull, Steven.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Brookings Institution Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiv, 312 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1430 Lexile.
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Format :


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E840 .K85 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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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.

Author Notes

Steven Kull , a political psychologist, is director of the Program on International Public Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland and, 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.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Conventional wisdom has long held to the idea that the American public is not generally interested in international affairs. This perception has been strengthened in the aftermath of the Cold War with the disappearance of a major enemy on the global stage. Kull and Destler's well-researched book goes a long way to challenge the myth of American isolationism. The authors convincingly demonstrate that polls and other indicators of public opinion have consistently shown that the American public indeed eschews isolationism and supports various forms of cooperative international engagement. Even the negative perception of the United Nations among a segment of the American public is not due to the lack of support for that organization's ideals among the American public. Rather, negative views on the UN stem primarily from the perception of the organization's ineffectiveness in dealing with myriad international crises. The authors, however, have found a decline in the level of priority that the American public gives to foreign affairs in the aftermath of the Cold War. Nonetheless, they argue that it would be a mistake to interpret this change as indicative of the American public's support for international disengagement. Highly recommended for upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, policy makers, journalists, and scholars of American foreign policy. N. Entessar Spring Hill College