CNN Poll: Democrats & GOP at odds over top international issues
November 22nd, 2011
06:00 AM ET
11 years ago

CNN Poll: Democrats & GOP at odds over top international issues

Washington (CNN) - Hours before a CNN GOP presidential debate that focuses heavily on national security and foreign affairs, a new national survey indicates there are wide partisan divides between Democrats and Republicans over some top global flashpoints.

Overall, Republicans are ready and willing to use U.S. military force in other countries; Independents and Democrats tend to be very reluctant to do so. From President Obama's decision to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq, to the conflict in Afghanistan, aid to Israel, the practice of "waterboarding" and the political battle over immigration reform and border security, a CNN/ORC International Poll released Tuesday indicates a Democrats and Republicans don't see eye to eye.

See full results (PDF)

The poll's release comes hours before the major Republican presidential candidates face off in a CNN presidential debate on national security, foreign policy and the economy. CNN is teaming up with the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, two long time Republican-leaning think tanks, to put on the debate, which is being held just a few blocks from the White House.

While the candidates appear to be in agreement that President Barack Obama's presidency has mostly been a failure when it comes to foreign policy, and that the president's policies have only weakened the country's security, and its standing among the world's nations, they also disagree on some top issues that will come up in the debate.

"Republicans who tune into the debate will probably like what they hear. Most of the candidates have taken positions on these issues that strike a chord with the average GOP voter," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "But Democrats and some independents who watch the debate may be turned off by what they hear."

Here's a breakdown of the poll, by issues.


Americans have grown increasingly reluctant to use U.S. military force around the world, but - unlike Democrats and independents - Republicans feel that the U.S. should be ready and willing to take military action. Overall, 53% of all Americans say the U.S. should be very reluctant to use military force, up from 38% in 2002, about a year after the 9/11 attacks. But there is a big partisan divide on that question, with a majority of Democrats and independents expressing reluctance but only four in ten Republicans feeling that way.


President Obama's plan to withdraw troops from Iraq by the end of the year is wildly popular among Democrats and independents, but most Republicans believe that Obama should keep some combat troops in Iraq beyond that deadline. One reason may be that a bare majority of Republicans continue to favor the war in Iraq; Democrats and independents are opposed to the war in large numbers. Overall, six in ten Americans say that they favor Obama's plan to bring all U.S. troops home from Iraq - not surprising when only 8% of the public believes that there are goals that the U.S. has not achieved in that country but would be able to do so if troops remained. But 54% of Republicans want to see a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq; only 42% agree with Obama's plan. There is a similar partisan divide on Afghanistan, which remains just about the only Obama policy that Republicans support.


A large number of Americans don't think the U.S. should take immediate military action to get Iran to shut down its nuclear program, and on this topic Democrats, independents, and Republicans agree. Overall, only 16% of all Americans support military action now; two-thirds want to see the U.S. use economic and diplomatic efforts against Iran rather than military action. Republicans are slightly more likely to support military action, but even among that group support rises to only 22%.


Aid to Israel has been in the news recently as the result of some comments made at the last GOP debate, held earlier this month in South Carolina, but there is little debate among Republicans nationwide on that issue. Nearly seven in ten Republicans believe that economic aid to Israel should be increased or kept the same; more than eight in ten say the same about military aid to Israel. Democrats and independents are more likely to oppose either form of aid to Israel, although all groups favor military aid to that country.


Most Americans believe that "waterboarding" is a form of torture, but while Democrats and independents think the U.S. government should not be allowed to use this procedure on suspected terrorists, 69% of Republicans don't have a problem with its use. In part, that's because 56% of Republicans don't think "waterboarding" is torture.


Not surprisingly, there is a big partisan divide on illegal immigration. A majority of Americans - and a supermajority of Republicans - say that the country's top priority on immigration should be stopping the flow of illegals and deporting those already here. But an overwhelming number of Americans also express sympathy for illegal immigrants and their families; Republicans, however, are split on that question. Overall, 55% say a crackdown on illegal immigration should be the government's top priority, rising to 71% among Republicans. A large majority of Democrats and independents feel some sympathy towards illegal immigrants, but Republicans are split on that question.

The CNN poll was conducted by ORC International from November 18-20, with 1,019 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    It isn't a surprise to me that Republicans want to use the military more than the Democrats; they've always beeen a bit more gung-ho (and gun ho) than everyone else. The problem appears that the Republicans don't fully understand soft power (talking to people and various forms of support) and the good that it does.

    As for Iran, if we were going to have done something covert, it would have started years ago. We can't follow Gingrich's advice and loudly say that we are starting it now. Intelligence (gathering it really) takes time.

    As for Israel, when the modern state was founded in 1948, they could have chosen to side with the Soviets, but they didn't. They have been our sole consistant ally in the area. Besides, they have always been a democracy and abided by the rule of law. Any aid that they get from the US is generally returned by the cross flow of innovations, technology and tourism among other things.

    November 22, 2011 07:21 am at 7:21 am |
  2. markmango

    "While the candidates appear to be in agreement that President Barack Obama's presidency has mostly been a failure when it comes to foreign policy"

    Are they on Acid? Did you forget about killing Osama Bin Laden and other Major A-Q's? Victory in Libya? Ending the fiasco in Iraq? Mostly a failure? Laughable. My cousin just got home from Afghanistan and I have never been happier. OBAMA 2012

    November 22, 2011 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  3. Wessibrah

    This is nonsense.....why don't you say the number of democrats who oppose illegal immigration instead you just put majority. What do mean majority? How majority? these are all part of left wing media non-sense.

    November 22, 2011 08:39 am at 8:39 am |
  4. Rudy NYC

    This debate should be interesting. I find it hard to sympathize with illegal immigrants who complain about their families being broken up when a family member is deported. The member committed a crime, most likely well aware of the punishment. The family should be well aware of the nature of the cirme, its' punishment, and accept the risk that they *put themselves* into. Do not complain that the system is unfair when you know the rules coming in, but chose to break them anyway.

    If your family member were to be sent to a US prison for an extended period of time, no one complains about that. Why not? If you do not wish to break up your family, then my advice to you is do not choose to break up your family. You should all leave together. No one is stopping you. There is a price to be paid for putting your entrie family's future in jeopardy.

    November 22, 2011 08:46 am at 8:46 am |
  5. Jim in Georgia

    This explains a lot...

    November 22, 2011 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  6. timsluga

    this is different how?

    November 22, 2011 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  7. James N. Mayfield

    I am a former Army officer and strong supporter of a strong America. But, I have to ask the Republican candidates these questions. 1. Are you willing to pay for America's wars? 2. Are you willing to provide funding for veterans' life-long needs? 3. Are you willing to seriously enforce existing veteran preference laws and enact stronger ones? 4. Are you willing to insist on a level playing field in international trade so that the US economy the veterans served to protect provides jobs for them not our adversaries? In summary, is your money where your mouth is and what will you do when your "no tax" pledge collides with the needs of current and former uniform service personnel?

    November 22, 2011 09:45 am at 9:45 am |