Problems at home important, study finds

According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 58 percent of Americans favor a heavier emphasis on domestic problems rather than issues overseas, but USC students see the importance of international, domestic and state issues.

The findings, up from 49 percent in 2005, represent a trend across a majority of political groups with traditionally dissimilar views on the United States’ role in the international system. Staunch conservatives, main-street Republicans, Libertarians and hard-pressed Democrats prefer the United States concentrate on problems at home. Solid liberals are the exception, appearing clearly divided on the issue, with 47 percent approving an aggressive international agenda and 47 percent approving a domestically focused agenda.

Americans’ stance against participation in world affairs was most recently reflected in Obama’s decision to pull American troops out of Iraq by the end of this year. The pullout, the president announced Friday, will leave only a small presence of Marine embassy guards and liaison officers in Iraq and will mark the end of heavy involvement in the country.

Historically, Americans have cared less about foreign policy, said Steven Lamy, vice dean for Academic Programs and a professor of international relations.

“Americans tend to be ignorant when it comes to foreign affairs,” Lamy said.

Patrick James, the director of the Center for International Studies and a professor of international relations, attributed the shift in public opinion, however, to the length of the war on terrorism.

“The sheer fatigue of fighting two distant and controversial wars, with the gradual realization that these events may have triggered more changes that will require attention from the United States and its allies,” James said. “Egypt, Tunisia and now Libya have turned over, creating exciting opportunities but also more stress.”

This trend has also been reinforced by an endless supply of bad economic news, James said.

“With the world economy in this condition, and the U.S. as no exception, it is natural for public attention to shift inward,” James said.

Kirby Kojima, a senior majoring in business, said problems like the rising unemployment rate justify a focus on domestic issues, specifically those in California.

“The economy is suffering and the unemployment rate is like 9 percent,” Kojima said. “We have some problems that we need to fix within the state first.”

Keelin Woodell, a senior majoring in theatre, said the focus should be on repairing problems on a local level.

“It’s important to have a good perspective of what’s going on outside of our country and outside of our daily lives; we have enough problems here in Los Angeles that there should at least be some focus on how we can try and fix unemployment and poverty in Los Angeles,” Woodell said.

Vicki Chen, a junior majoring in broadcast journalism, said after the United States addresses its domestic issues it can than begin advancing international policy.

“The United States should take care of its citizens and make sure it is stable and can rebuild from a very low point in our economy before we go and make promises abroad that we can’t keep or that we can’t afford,” Chen said.

Mary Horwath, a first-year graduate student studying law, emphasized the significance of greater diplomacy with other countries.

“There should probably be more of a focus on international issues because I think where we had strong policies in the past, with international relationships with Japan and China, we’ve kind of neglected [them],” Horwath said.

Dorina Ehsanipour, a sophomore majoring in public relations, said the United States should find a balance between its domestic and international policies.

“It’s always important to start inward and fix problems that we have domestically,” Ehsanipour said. “At the same time, I don’t think that people should forget our relationships with other countries abroad. I think [domestic and foreign issues] are important, as long as there’s a balance.”