Americans’ Foreign Policy Preferences Tied to Geographic Savvy

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

The situation in Ukraine continues to gain tension with Russia’s annexation of Crimea contested by the international community, and Russian military influence over the Ukrainian region condemned by Ukraine’s interim government. Protests in regions of Ukraine such as Donetsk are showing pro-Russian violence towards regional government there.

So far, the U.S. has responded to Russia’s encroachment on Ukraine’s territory with sanctions and isolationist tactics. It’s a response that President Barack Obama has seen returned with considerable criticism, as has his foreign policy in general. Specifically, he’s getting flack from both Republicans and international critics — including Israel in regards to Iran — for ineffective opposition in the form of sanctions and a lack of strength shown in the face of international conflicts.

Two-thirds of Americans in general have self-reported that they are following the events with Ukraine either “somewhat closely” or “very closely,” based on a Gallup poll in early March. This is especially significant in light of a new study from political scientists Kyle Dropp, Joshua D. Kertzer, and Thomas Zeitzoff, who wrote a piece in The Washington Post on their findings. The study asked a national survey sample size of 2,066 Americans their preferences on foreign policy, as well as asking them to place Ukraine on a map of the United States. An interesting correlation was found. Only one in six could correctly place Ukraine geographically, and the further answers were from being correct, the more likely respondents were to be in favor of intervention via military force.

It also found that results were more split along the lines of “isolationism versus internationalism and assertiveness versus accommodativeness” rather than liberal or conservative partisanship, but that when it came to accuracy in locating Ukraine, the younger generations tended to do better. Independents also tended towards more accurate placement than either Democrats or Republicans, and college graduates predictably did better than those who did not graduate from higher education — still, 77 percent of graduates were unable to pick Ukraine out on a map.

One could argue that geographic knowledge is not synonymous with political understanding, however, the study was able to show that “even controlling for a series of demographic characteristics and participants’ general foreign policy attitudes.” Furthermore, the “less accurate our participants were, the more they wanted the U.S. to use force, the greater the threat they saw Russia as posing to U.S. interests, and the more they thought that using force would advance U.S. national security interests.” The findings, they note, are “statistically significant at a 95 percent confidence level,” in The Washington Post.

What’s more, the researchers reference previous research that has shown the power of information in transforming and creating American opinion on policy preferences, and polled on individuals opinions on their thoughts of what was currently going on there. It at least brings up the possibility that criticism of Obama’s non-military interventionist policy against Russia is not, or at least not completely, a partisan issue.

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