THE BLOG
10/19/2012 12:52 pm ET Updated Dec 19, 2012

The Final Debate: How the Candidates Win on Foreign Policy

The 'who won' analysis of Tuesday's presidential debate may very well continue until the candidates approach the podium again this coming Monday night. Yet while the town hall provided no shortage of important material to consider, Americans are still awaiting a robust conversation on foreign policy. In fact, three in four voters say international issues impact their vote, and nearly half feel these issues have not been discussed enough as part of this campaign.

As Obama and Romney prepare to go head to head one more time and tackle that subject, their campaigns would each be well advised to heed new poll findings released this week. That is, in a nationwide survey of likely voters -- Democrats, Republicans and Independents -- the bipartisan research team of Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research Associates revealed that, if they could insert a question into the presidential debate, Americans overwhelmingly want to know: What can the U.S. do to reduce our troop presence in Afghanistan; what is each candidate's Middle East strategy; and how can we address nuclear threats such as Iran?

None of these questions were truly addressed in Tuesday's town hall. However, to win Monday's foreign policy debate, the candidates will not only have to tackle them straight on, but also consider the solutions with which voters most identify.

For example, the same poll revealed that to achieve our foreign policy goals, eight in 10 say it's best to work with major allies and through international organizations, versus acting mainly on our own. And when thinking about international issues, they want to see "America doing its fair share around the world." In fact, when presented with viewpoints from three hypothetical candidates (candidates "Smith," "Jones" and "Miller") whose views varied on the best approach to foreign policy, voters most favored the candidate who emphasized "international cooperation." The view voters clearly prefer is:

Candidate Miller says...Today, solutions to the world's problems require international cooperation -- we cannot do it alone. International cooperation is a better way of solving some of the world's key problems. He says we need to work through international organizations like the United Nations to make sure America's values and interests are respected around the world."

Americans are hungry for a deeper dive into our most pressing foreign policy challenges, and they have already provided a roadmap of the words they're waiting to hear. While the next debate is up for grabs and the winner still unknown, heeding Americans' clear preferences for international cooperation, engaging our allies, and working with international organizations like the United Nations could make all the difference. Obama and Romney's views on foreign policy may differ on the specifics, but voters have given clear direction on how to be won over on these high priority issues.