No Sitting on the Sidelines: Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans Say Human Rights Should be a Central Feature of U.S. Foreign Policy

    NEW YORK , N.Y. – June 3, 2014 – When it comes to the United States being the world’s policeman there are certain things that can trigger the U.S. getting involved in another country. In the not-too-distant past, the stories about what might be occurring inside another country were just that – stories. But now, with people constantly carrying cameras and video recorders with them on their cell phones, the atrocities that occur around the world are able to be shared almost immediately with complete strangers on the other side of the globe, thanks to social media. These videos and pictures can now be the impetus for Americans clamoring for the U.S. to be more involved to help stop these issues.

    Following are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,286 adults surveyed online between May 14 and 19, 2014.

    Almost two-thirds of Americans (64%) say that human rights should be a central feature of the United States’ foreign policy. Just over one in ten (14%) say human rights should not be a central feature of foreign policy for the U.S. while almost one-quarter (22%) are not at all sure. Men are more likely than women to say human rights should not be a central feature of U.S. foreign policy (20% vs. 9%) while women are more likely than men to be unsure (27% vs. 17%).

    As might be expected, when it comes to foreign policy there is a partisan difference. Three-quarters of Democrats (76%) believe human rights should be a central feature of foreign policy, compared to three in five Independents (60%) and just over half of Republicans (55%). One in five Republicans (20%) and 16% of Independents believe it should not be, compared to one in ten Democrats (9%).

    Human Rights Abuses in Other Countries

    When it comes to which countries or regions the U.S. government should speak out about human rights abuses, there isn’t one that rises to the top over any others. Almost two-thirds of Americans say the U.S. government is right to speak out about possible human rights abuses in the Middle East (64%) and in Sub-Saharan Africa (64%). Three in five U.S. adults say the government is right to speak out about possible human rights abuses in Russia (61%) and China (61%). Around one in five Americans say the U.S. government is not right to speak out about possible human rights abuses in the Middle East (18%), Sub-Saharan Africa (17%), Russia (20%) and China (20%), while roughly another one in five is not at all sure for each country or region (18% for the Middle East, 19% for Sub-Saharan Africa, Russia and China).

    Interestingly, men are more likely than women to say that the U.S. government is right to speak out about possible human rights abuses in the Middle East (69% vs. 60%) and Sub-Saharan Africa (71% vs. 58%), as well as in Russia and China (66% vs. 56% for each country). Politically, again Democrats are more likely than Republicans and Independents to say the U.S. government is right to speak out against possible human rights abuses in each of these countries and/or regions. But, the biggest gap is with regard to human rights abuses in Russia. Over half of Republicans (55%) and three in five Independents (60%) say the U.S. government is right to speak out, compared to seven in ten Democrats (70%).

     

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    TABLE 1

    HUMAN RIGHTS IN U.S. FOREIGN POLICY

    In your opinion, should human rights be a central feature of the United States’ foreign policy?

    Base: All adults

    Total

    Gender

    Political Party

    Men

    Women

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Human rights should be a central feature of our foreign policy

    64

    63

    64

    55

    76

    60

    Human rights should be not a central feature of our foreign policy

    14

    20

    9

    20

    9

    16

    Not at all sure

    22

    17

    27

    25

    16

    24

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 2

    HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN OTHER COUNTRIES

    Is the U.S. government right to speak out about possible human rights abuses in the following regions and countries or not?

    Base: All adults

    Yes

    No

    Not sure

    %

    %

    %

    The Middle East

    64

    18

    18

    Sub-Saharan Africa

    64

    17

    19

    Russia

    61

    20

    19

    China

    61

    20

    19

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 3

    HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN OTHER COUNTRIES

    Is the U.S. government right to speak out about possible human rights abuses in the following regions and countries or not?

    Percent saying Yes

    Base: All adults

    Yes

    Region

    Gender

    Political Party

    East

    Midwest

    South

    West

    Men

    Women

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    The Middle East

    64

    66

    63

    61

    69

    69

    60

    60

    71

    65

    Sub-Saharan Africa

    64

    67

    64

    60

    68

    71

    58

    60

    71

    65

    Russia

    61

    65

    55

    56

    69

    66

    56

    55

    70

    60

    China

    61

    64

    57

    57

    66

    66

    56

    56

    67

    61

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

     

    Methodology

    This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between May 14 and 19, 2014 among 2,286 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

    Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

    The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

    The Harris Poll #53, June 3, 2014

    By Regina A. Corso, VP, The Harris Poll and Public Relations Research