In terms of public perceptions about foreign policy, Pew released a poll back in January (taken in October/November 2013):
U.S. Foreign Policy: Key Data Points from Pew Research | Pew Research Center
1. 53% of those surveyed felt that American global power has been declining.
2. 63% felt that the U.S. should be less involved in leadership changes in the Middle East and 63% would prefer stable governments even if that means less democracy in the Middle East.
3. 70% or more of those surveyed said that the U.S. should protect itself from terrorist attacks (61% support the use of drones against terrorist organizations), protect American jobs, and prevent the spread of WMD; 33% or fewer respondents felt that the U.S. should be promoting/defending human rights in other countries, helping improve living standards in developing countries, or promoting democracy in other countries.
4. 66% believe greater U.S. involvement in the global economy is a good thing.
5. Two-thirds or more felt that Islamic extremist groups, cyberattacks, Iran's nuclear program, and North Korea's nuclear program pose major threats. 54% felt that China's emergence as a world power posed a major threat.
My thoughts on the poll:
The first finding creates a backdrop for the recent foreign policy pessimism. Given how disproportionately ad hoc and reactionary American foreign policy has become, public perceptions that American power is declining are understandable. The second finding has a lot of relevance when it comes to whether the U.S. should be promoting regime change in the Middle East. It reflects the bad outcome in Libya. It also provides fresh insight that the U.S. should avoid getting entangled in Syria's sectarian conflict. The third point concerns a fairly narrow focus. The three lowest-ranking items likely represent assumptions that the U.S. has only limited influence in promoting democracy and human rights--other than through setting an example and some small-scale initiatives, regime change cannot bring democracy, and a traditional attitude that foreign aid isn't very effective. The fourth point reflects the American public's longstanding priority that economic policy is the nation's most important matter. Economic engagement with developing countries would be the preferred means for encouraging their development. 56% want the U.S. to remain the world's sole superpower. This represents the longstanding view that the U.S. should be sufficiently strong to defend itself and its strategic allies, but 44% believe the U.S. relies too heavily on the military for achieving its foreign policy aims (probably a reflection of the neoconservative use of force to try to promote democracy and the Obama Administration's use of force in the name of a "responsibility to protect" principle. The fifth point suggests that the public is perhaps de-emphasizing the role of the nation-state in its perceptions of risk and possibly overemphasizing the impact of cyberattacks. Nevertheless, just over half the public is wary about China's rise and the implications of China's growing power.
When it comes to foreign aid to developing countries, I believe such aid should depend on:
1. U.S. interests (friendly countries or prospective partners should have priority given fiscal resource limitations).
2. The type and amount of aid should be based on a clear understanding of the needs the aid would seek to address, the prospects that the package would be successful, etc.
3. Emergency situations e.g., due to a catastrophic natural disaster.
Finally, it should be noted that 48% of those polled said that foreign policy should aim to reduce illegal immigation. In my view, the public has hit on a point that seemingly has largely escaped policy makers to date. The immigration policy debate has been focused on border security and addressing the reality of undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. The comprehensive approach considers both elements. Some argue only for the former element. The missing piece involves bilateral negotiations with countries such as Mexico, as bilateral agreements could be an important factor in impacting migration patterns. Obviously, such agreements would require reciprocity e.g., liberalized guest worker permit process/agreed number of permits in exchange for Mexico's efforts to help accommodate American immigration concerns. Without bilateral cooperation, the border enforcement approach would probably have only a limited impact. I suspect that the three-pronged approach (border security, policy approach for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., bilateral agreements) likely offers the best prospects for developing an effective and robust immigration policy.