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Voters See U.S. as 'Bully' Abroad

It turns out voters aren't so fond of the whole "U.S. as the world's policeman" after all.

According to a new survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Peter D. Hart Research for the U.N. Foundation, both Democrats and Republicans are more likely to support a presidential candidate who backs international cooperation when it comes to defending the United States.

Among all voters surveyed, seven in 10 said it was very important that the next president has "the right balance of toughness and diplomacy" in working with other countries and 63 percent said it was crucial that the leader "improve America's image around the world."

GOP pollster Bill McInturff and Democratic pollster Geoff Garin tested several messages on international cooperation, and the one that came out on top was somewhat surprising: 81 percent of respondents said they were more likely to vote for someone who declared "America can not face all of its enemies or solve the world's problems alone. We need help. But to gain help we have to work more closely with other countries around the world. We need to share the burden and not be the sole supplier of resources, finances, military forces, and diplomacy for peace in the world."

The findings, McInturff told a group of foreign policy experts during a dinner hosted by United Nations Foundation President Timothy E. Wirth on Tuesday night at Nora's restaurant in Washington D.C., "are a pretty harsh rebuke of the Bush administration and what it's doing in Iraq." He noted that 78 percent of those surveyed thought America is now less respected by other countries (up 11 points from July 2004), and 76 percent of them thought this was "a major problem."

The two polling firms polled 800 likely voters nationwide in September, after having conducted nine focus groups in July, producing a survey with a roughly 3 percent margin of error. The focus group participants delivered an equally dark assessment of the country's current foreign policy, McInturff said.

"The word that was frequently used was 'bully,'" he said. "We heard a lot of that from swing voters."

On the other hand, the current group of presidential candidates need to choose their words carefully, according to the U.N. Foundation survey. While "international cooperation" and "global partnerships" scored high, respondents nixed the term "engagement" and when it came to the phrase "multilateralism," McInturff said, "one out of four people couldn't even guess what it means."

--Juliet Eilperin

By Washington Post editors  |  November 16, 2007; 1:10 PM ET
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