Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Does Foreign Policy Matter in this Election?

U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden receive an update on mission against bin Laden.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on Operation Neptune’s Spear, a mission against Osama bin Laden, in one of the conference rooms of the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Photo by Pete Souza. PD

The presidential candidates have focused much of their attention in the 2012 election on domestic and economic policy. However, the killing of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya last week, and the ensuing demonstrations across the Middle East has offered voters a chance to observe how the candidates would handle real life events. Does foreign policy matter in presidential elections? I argue it does, and more so than candidates and pundits traditionally give it credit.

While the media and pundits have primarily focused their commentary this week on Mitt Romney’s 47% comment delivered during a closed-door donor dinner (watch the full remarks of part I here and part II here), many have glossed over the remarks he made regarding foreign policy. Romney’s remarks that the American people “aren’t concentrated at all” on issues such as relations with China, Russia, Iran and Iraq are of concern here. While many polls show that the economy is the primary issue of importance to the electorate in this election, foreign affairs do in fact shape voter evaluations of the presidential candidates and ultimately influence how they will cast their ballot on the election day. In addition, in such an extremely polarized political environment, it’s also clear that elite partisans messages mediate voters’ foreign policy evaluations of the candidates