For the first time in the institute's 45 years conducting the poll, more respondents agreed (49 percent) that the United States "should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own" than disagreed (44 percent). A majority, 76 percent, believes that the country should focus more on problems at home and not concentrate as much on international issues.
Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center, told the Associated Press in an interview that the "very bad economy" factored heavily in the growth of isolationist sentiment.
The poll also reflects a decidedly pessimistic mood among members of the public: only 25 percent reported feeling satisfied with conditions in America today, and even fewer, 15 percent, said they feel satisfied with conditions in the world.
This may be attributable to public views of the war in Afghanistan, which has dominated the news recently. Both the public and members of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) expressed disapproval at the way President Obama has handled the issue of Afghanistan, and 57 percent of respondents among the public and 90 percent of the CFR say the war is going "not too/at all well." Only 32 percent of respondents favor the idea of a troop increase.
Mr. Obama still has a favorable job approval rating, with 51 percent of the public approving of the way he is handling the job overall. However, his ratings have dipped since he took office, and the 51 percent is an all-time monthly low.
Despite Americans' apparent isolationist sentiment, the poll also reflects significant anxiety about international threats to the United States. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they consider China's rising status as a world power to be "a major threat." The public also expressed concern that focused chiefly on the Middle East. The top international threats were deemed to be Islamic extremist groups, Iran's nuclear program and the Taliban's growing strength.
Both the public and the CFR reported that they feel the United States is in greater danger of suffering an attack by a country using a weapon of mass destruction than it was ten years ago.