Swing State Voters Reject Isolationism, Support Continued NATO Membership

March 29, 2024
R&WS Research Team
Democratic Party | Donald Trump | International Relations | Joe Biden | Relations with China | Republican Party | Security | US Presidential Election 2024

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Four years ago, when American voters last faced a decision about who should be their President, defense and national security issues were far from the forefront of their minds. Instead,  the 2020 Presidential Election contest was fought amidst a public health crisis and an economic crisis

In 2024, the context in which the current election is being fought is very different. While the world still wrestles with the economic fallout from the pandemic, the global security situation has deteriorated appreciably. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked the biggest land war in Europe since World War II, the Middle East is once again ablaze in conflict, and Taiwan continues to be menaced by the threat of invasion from an increasingly belligerent China. America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, meanwhile, invited questions about America’s willingness and ability to meet its commitments to its allies, questions which remain unresolved.

As a result, national security, the condition of America’s armed forces, and the role America should play in the world will all feature far more prominently in the coming election campaign than they did in 2020.

To see how Americans view these, and other, national security and defense-related issues, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies, in partnership with The Telegraph, recently polled 5,010 voters in the crucial swing states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

For a start, our poll finds that between 39% and 48% of voters in these six states say defense will be an ‘extremely’ important issue in determining how they will vote in the next Presidential Election

When responses for all issues are averaged for the number of respondents in all six states who rate the issue as ‘extremely’ important, that places defense eighth out of nineteen issues listed, behind the likes of abortion (44%-50%), taxation (38%-49%), and policing/crime (39%-50%), but ahead of issues such as the job market (37%-48%), the Supreme Court (37%-43%), and the housing market (38%-41%).

The Biden Administration earns net approval ratings for its performance on defense from as low as -16% in Arizona to as high as a neutral 0% in Florida. 

This range in approval ratings is higher than the range in the Administrations’ ratings on issues such as foreign policy (-20% to -4%) and immigration (-27% to -16%), but lower than its ratings on issues like the economy (-9% to +1%) and healthcare (+1% to +10%).

When asked who between Joe Biden and Donald Trump they trust more on defense, pluralities in all six states polled select Donald Trump. Between 42% and 49% select Trump, while only between 31% and 35% select Biden, suggesting a lead on this issue that is larger than Trump’s overall voting intention lead.

While the Republican Party also leads the Democratic Party in all six states when voters are asked which party voters trust more on national security and defense, the gap is narrower than is the case between the two party’s figureheads.

Between 40% and 45% most trust the Republican Party on national security and defense, against between 34% and 38% who most trust the Democratic Party.

Regarding spending on the armed forces, most swing state voters would prefer the US Government to increase defense spending, even at the cost of reducing spending elsewhere.

Between 48% and 56% would prefer the US to increase spending on the armed forces, at the cost of less spending on other programs. Conversely, between 25% to 30% would instead prefer the US to decrease spending on the armed forces, to the benefit of more spending on other programs.

Donald Trump’s 2020 voters are particularly more likely to prefer increased defense spending.

Pluralities of respondents in every swing state polled name China as the country which represents the greatest threat to the United States and its interests, with Russia the second most common choice. 

Notably, among 2020 Biden voters in all six swing states, Russia is the most common choice, though to a lesser extent to which China is the most common choice among 2020 Trump voters.

When it comes to identifying America’s closest ally, the United Kingdom is named by a majority of voters in Arizona (55%) and by pluralities in Florida (46%), Georgia (37%), North Carolina (46%), and Pennsylvania (46%).

Canada is the most frequent choice for voters in Michigan (44%) and is the second choice of voters in the other five states. Germany (16%-28%), France (17%-21%) and Israel (13%-20%) are also common choices.

Majorities in all six states believe the United States should seek to be a global force for good, while around a third (32%-36%) think the United States should only seek to defend itself from direct threats. 

While the view that the US should seek to be a global force for good is overwhelmingly held by Biden 2020 voters (57%-68%), it is also a view shared by a majority or plurality of Trump 2020 votes in five of the six states polled.

Swing state voters express overwhelming support for America’s continued membership of NATO, with support ranging from between 68% (Georgia) and 73% (North Carolina).

Fewer than 10% of voters in all six states polled oppose the United States being a member of the alliance.

Around two-thirds (61%-67%) of voters believe the United States should stay in NATO, while only between 12% and 16% think it should leave the alliance.

Since 2014, NATO members have agreed to commit 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to defense spending. This target was reaffirmed by alliance members in 2023.

Pluralities of voters in all six swing states believe the 2% target is ‘about right.’ Between a fifth and a quarter (21%-24%) think that target is too low, while 8%-14% think that it is too high.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s recent comments suggesting that he would not defend a NATO member state that did not meet its 2% commitment to defense spending, most swing state voters believe the US should be committed to NATO allies defense regardless of their defense spending. 

Majorities of voters in Florida (52%), Pennsylvania (51%), and Georgia (50%) think the US should be committed to the defense of NATO allies regardless of whether they have met the 2% target. Pluralities of voters in Arizona (46%), Michigan (48%), and North Carolina (48%) also agree with this position.

Conversely, around one-third (29%-36%) believe the US should not be committed to the defense of NATO allies who haven’t met the 2% target. This view is disproportionately held by Trump 2020 voters, including by a majority of Trump voters in Arizona (52%) and pluralities in Michigan (39%), North Carolina (44%), and Pennsylvania (43%).

However, there is general agreement with the proposition that Europe is too reliant on the United States for its military defense.

Majorities of voters in Arizona (51%) and Pennsylvania (50%) hold this view, as do pluralities in the other four states polled. Majorities of Trump 2020 voters in all six states agree, as do pluralities of Biden 2020 voters in five of the six states. Only between 11% and 18% disagree.

In response to the Houthi’s campaign to disrupt shipping in the Red Sea, the US and her allies are currently waging a campaign of airstrikes against the group in Yemen, a campaign which attracts the support of between 53% and 58% of respondents, depending on the state.

More broadly, overwhelmingly majorities (68%-74%) believe the United States should be engaged in armed missions far from the United States to help preserve freedom of navigation at sea, a position which the United States has used to justify naval operations in the Taiwan strait.

Taken together, these results point to an American electorate which is not as polarized on defense matters as some commentary may suggest nor as isolationist. 

Support for the US acting as a global force for good is overwhelming, as is support for continued membership of NATO. In the global context of an increasingly troubled international situation, most voters also support increases in defense spending, even at a cost to other government programs.

This nuance is critical to understand ahead of an election campaign in which the candidates’ respective policy proposals on national security and defense matters will receive far greater scrutiny and be of far more significance than was the case four years ago. 

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Follow us on Twitter

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