POLITICS

Poll Highlights Disagreements Between Foreign Policy Experts And The Public

02/02/2015 05:19 pm ET | Updated Feb 04, 2015
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International relations scholars are far more likely than the public at large to support increasing immigration -- one of several marked differences between academics and Americans as a whole, according to a recent Teaching Research and International Policy (TRIP) poll conducted by the College of William & Mary.

Fifty-three percent of academics who specialize in international affairs said they believe that the U.S. should increase immigration, while 27 percent believe it's best to keep it at the present level and 6 percent called for decreasing it.

In contrast, as Foreign Policy magazine, which co-sponsored the poll, notes, a June 2014 Gallup poll of all Americans found that only 22 percent support an increase in immigration, while 33 percent would keep it at the present level and 41 percent would decrease it.

Mike Tierney, an associate professor of international relations at the College of William & Mary who worked on the poll, speculated that the differences are the result of variations in ideology and education levels. "Most people with advanced degrees think an open economy is more efficient and that in the long run the U.S. will benefit," he said.

Tierney explained why the experts' opinions matter: When there is high "consensus among experts in international relations, we should listen to what [they] are saying and make it part of the public discourse."

The poll also found that academics diverge with national public opinion on defense issues. A majority of the academics polled said they believe that a war between the U.S. and China or the U.S. and Russia in the next 10 years is unlikely.

But while just 38 percent of scholars think the nation is headed back into a Cold War against Russia, fully half of Americans said the same in a poll taken last March. In both cases, personal experience made a difference. Foreign Policy notes that academics who graduated during the Cold War were more likely to expect the conflict to continue, and Gallup found the same of Americans who lived through the Cold War.

Academics, like much of the public, had mixed opinions on the campaign against the Islamic State. By a 2-to-1 margin, scholars said the terrorist group would be as powerful as it is today even if the United States had bombed Syrian government forces in the summer of 2013. Americans generally opposed those strikes in 2013, but shifted opinions considerably over the course of the last year.

One place scholars and the broader public agree? Wall Street. Forty-eight percent of scholars in the poll said they thought the global regulatory infrastructure system is neither more nor less capable than it was in 2008. A New York Times poll in December 2014 found 24 percent of people expressed no confidence in the federal government's ability to regulate financial institutions, while 34 percent expressed "not much" confidence.

Richard Eichenberg, an international relations associate professor at Tufts University who participated in the poll, offered another take on why scholars see the world differently from the general public: "Scholars see the world objectively, rather than as citizens or patriots. They study the evidence [and] draw nuanced conclusions, while citizens usually rely on partisanship, ideology, religious beliefs, or the cues of opinion leaders as they form opinions,” he said.

The TRIP survey polled 1,395 academics who are currently employed at a U.S. college or university in a political science department or professional school, and who currently teach or research on international issues.

Ariel Edwards-Levy contributed reporting.

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