January 10, 2019

Not Your Grandfather’s Foreign Policy: New Opinions from the Next Gen

By Matthew Wright

The newly-minted 116th Congress boasts the youngest freshman class in history. And as a record number of millennial lawmakers have taken their seats in Washington for the first time this month, a question arises: where will this new generation of lawmakers choose to focus their attention?

These members of Congress may have just begun calling their votes, but new information suggests that how they prioritize American leadership on the world stage could be quite different from some of their elder peers. A recent Pew Research Center report — also studying conflicting partisan priorities in foreign policy — sheds light on the foreign policy interests of younger Americans.

Young Americans Value Human Rights

The report finds that almost half of Americans aged 18 to 29 say the U.S. should make “protecting groups or nations threatened with genocide a top priority.” The younger generation also places greater emphasis on “promoting and defending human rights in other countries” and “aiding refugees fleeing violence.”

Older generations — on the other hand — are more focused on the United States checking the power and influence of strategic competitors, like China and Russia. For example, according to the data, a majority of Americans 65 and older believe that limiting the influence of Russia in world affairs is more important than promoting values like human rights, which only a quarter of that age group said should be a priority.

Finding Common Ground

In spite of these differences, all generations still find common ground on a few key international issues. For example, a near-majority of every age group surveyed believes combatting infectious diseases is a top foreign policy priority — that’s some of the most consistent support for any single problem presented.

Other issues that saw broad, generation-spanning support include promoting U.S. business interests abroad and improving relationships with allies, both areas that rely heavily on America’s diplomatic corps.

These popular issues critical to American prosperity at home and leadership abroad are all supported by the increasingly vital International Affairs Budget. This small, but powerful 1% of the overall U.S. federal budget not only fights the spread of disease, helps to foster key alliances around the world, and promotes human rights, it also guides the world away from Russian and Chinese influence as those countries seek to usurp the American-led world order.

Although Americans — young and old — have different foreign policy priorities, it is evident that the nation believes the future depends on engagement, not isolation.