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Americans Turning Introverted On U.S. Role in World Politics

By Meg Bortin
THE NEW YORK TIMES

Shaken by the Iraq war and the rise of anti-American sentiment around the world, Americans are turning inward, a new Pew survey of American opinion leaders and the general public indicates.

The survey, conducted from Sept. 5 to Oct. 31 and released Thursday, found isolationist feelings among the public similar to the sentiment that followed the Vietnam War in the 1970s and the end of the Cold War in the 1990s.

At the same time, the poll indicated, Americans are feeling less inclined to see the United States act on its own than in the recent past.

The survey by the Pew Research Center in association with the Council on Foreign Relations was of a random sample of 2,006 American adults from the general public and 520 influential Americans in fields that included foreign affairs, security, religion, science, engineering and the military. The margin of sampling error for most questions was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Forty-two percent of those surveyed in the general public said they agreed that the United States should “mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.” That was up from 30 percent in a similar poll in December 2002, before the American-led invasion of Iraq.

The result appeared to represent less support for President Bush’s stated goal of promoting democracy in other nations.

“We’re seeing a backlash against a bumbled foreign policy,” said Stephen Van Evera, a political science professor at MIT. He said Americans were concerned about the failure to make progress on North Korea and Iran, as well as the fight against al-Qaida, but he added, “The American people in particular are looking at Iraq and seeing nothing’s working.”

Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed from the general public said that the United States should play a shared leadership role, and only 25 percent said that they wanted the country to be the most active nation in international leadership.

Majorities from both the public and opinion leaders said they disapproved of how Bush was handling his job as president. Fifty-two percent of the public expressed disapproval; the figure was higher for opinion leaders.

“Pluralities in every group of influentials — as well as the public — attribute the fact that there has not been a terrorist attack in the U.S. to luck,” the poll reported.