Professor Shibley Telhami published a new article on May 16, 2024, with the Brookings Institution examining the latest findings of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll with Ipsos, fielded January 29-February 5, 2024. The article examined the degree to which Americans want the United States to make defending human rights and spreading democracy goals of American foreign policy. It found that two-thirds of Americans, including majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents support making human rights a goal. At the same time, Americans are divided on the goal of spreading democracy globally. A plurality of Americans, including pluralities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents, also say the best way to advance human rights is by working with international organizations such as the United Nations, followed by the U.S. setting a good example.

Why are Americans supportive of the goal of human rights but ambivalent about the goal of spreading democracy? Professor Telhami lays out three reasons in his new article: 

"First may be lingering memories of the failed military campaigns in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan, carried out at least partly in the name of spreading democracy.  Second is that while Americans think that the best way to advocate for democracy globally is to be a good model, only 25% of Americans think that democracy in the United States is now a good model for the rest of the world to follow, with 54% saying "it used to be a good example but has not been in recent years." Third may be Americans' assessment of the likely Republican and Democratic candidates for U.S. president in 2024: A majority (59%) said the presumptive Republican candidate, Donald Trump, is a threat to democracy, while nearly half (49%) said the Democratic candidate for president, Joe Biden, is a threat to democracy," writes Professor Telhami

The article also addresses the possible implications of American public attitudes supporting human rights on President Joe Biden’s approval. Professor Telhami highlights Biden's statements during his 2020 presidential campaign and during his first few months in office declaring his commitment to human rights, contrasting with recently having at least one official resignation in the Department of State over a perceived lack of commitment to this issue:

There has also been much evidence in polls over the past seven months that many Americans, especially Democrats, have been at odds with Biden’s policies that touch on human rights, particularly in the Middle East, such as civilian casualties in Gaza, violations of international humanitarian law, and the need for a cease-fire. Our own polls in October and November showed how Americans initially rallied behind Israel after they learned of the large civilian casualties in Hamas’s attack, before they started swinging, especially young people, toward sympathy for Palestinians.

Read the full Brookigns Article

Questionnaire with Results 


The American flag waves outside of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on January 5, 2023 during the 'Jan 6 Justice: Democracy on the Line' rally and press conference, demanding accountability for former President Donald Trump and other officials for the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot, as well as for safe and fair elections. Bryan Olin Dozier via Reuters Connect.