Washington, DC – Today, Foreign Policy for America (FP4A) released the results of its Economic Competitiveness Initiative focus groups, a project undertaken with Lake Research Partners (LRP). With the Biden-Harris administration’s promise to forge a “foreign policy for the middle class” and Congress seeking to pass comprehensive economic recovery legislation, understanding voters’ attitudes toward international economic policy and U.S. diplomatic engagement is more important than ever. FP4A worked with LRP to conduct focus groups with key swing voter groups to explore how the public understands and talks about America’s economic position in the world. The focus groups questioned participants about the role they want the U.S. to play on the global stage, the linkages they perceive between foreign and domestic policy, and the ways in which they relate U.S. foreign policy to their own economic situations.
The project benefited from an advisory council composed of mayors, county executives, state officials, business leaders, and labor leaders from across the country.
“The focus groups underscored American voters’ appreciation of our role on the global stage, and its direct connection to the economic progress that we seek to achieve here at home,” said Lionel C. Johnson, Initiative co-chairman and chairman of FP4A’s Board of Directors. “We will continue this important dialogue with the American people heading into the critical 2022 mid-term elections. Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic renewal that benefits all our citizens requires that we lead the global recovery. No other nation has the wherewithal to accomplish this. And we must reestablish our credibility to do so.”
We learned that our focus group participants were not anti-trade. In fact, most believe that U.S. engagement in the global economy is good for the country, and that the availability of quality, affordable products from abroad benefits their personal economic situations. However, they were also concerned about over-reliance on any one trading partner, especially China. Participants want economic security through a diverse network of trading partners and enhanced domestic self-sufficiency.
“The focus groups produced several important findings about swing voters’ attitudes toward American global engagement and economic competitiveness,” said Initiative co-chairman Mark Bohannon. “They are eager for better global relationships, but they are also acutely aware that new leadership is not, on its own, enough to repair our standing. America cannot restore its strength and credibility abroad without simultaneously prioritizing more widely shared domestic progress.”
The focus groups revealed that participants view foreign and domestic economic policy as intimately linked. The discussions indicated that many factors—including level of political engagement, geographic location, and gender—impact the way voters conceptualize ideas like “competitiveness.” The focus groups reinforced the importance of messaging that recognizes that the way Washington policymakers talk about issues like economic competitiveness is not always in sync with the way these issues are perceived by a diverse electorate.
“We undertook these focus groups to understand what Americans think about the connection between foreign and domestic economic policy, as well as Washington’s growing competition with China,” said Foreign Policy for America Executive Director Andrew Albertson. “We were pleased to share our findings with the Biden administration in hopes these insights contribute to the development of a sound foreign policy for the middle class.”
More analysis on the Economic Competitiveness Initiative can be found here.