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This question is motivated by the slowly approaching US elections and the current state of world affairs. There are various countries that now critically depend on US support (e.g. Ukraine, Israel). However, resources such as political capital, effort, and or economic resources are scarce, and it seems rational for politicians who care about reelection to direct as many resources inward during elections to attract voters in important swing states.

Thus, my question is: Is this support endangered by US election campaigning? Is there any evidence that, during past election cycles, the US reduced support to its allies and looked more inward?

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2 Answers 2

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Do American elections affect the level of US foreign support?

Yes.

All decisions regarding how much foreign aid and support the U.S. provides is ultimately made by federal elected officials or people accountable to them.

Is this support endangered by US election campaigning?

During the Cold War, U.S. Senator Arthur Vandenberg is credited with originating in 1947 the aphorism “Politics stops at the water's edge." And, at least in the late 20th century, U.S. foreign policy was less divided along partisan political lines than U.S. domestic policy.

But U.S. foreign policy has always had some partisan dimensions, all of the way back to the earliest Congresses in which political divisions over foreign policy emerged between the North and the South. The broad outlines of those political divisions have mostly been stable up through the early 21st century.

Support could be endangered, or it could be enhanced by election campaigns. This is entirely up to the arguments and promises made by people running for federal offices in a given election. Partisan positions on foreign policy change over time.

The partisan politics of support for Israel

Democrats have run hot and cold over time in their support for military assistance to Israel. Biden has strongly supported Israel in the wake of this month's Hamas attack on it, but prior to this attack, Democratic support for Israel was near an all time low out of concern that Israel has mistreated the Palestinians.

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Another factor may be the changing makeup of the Democratic party. Historically, the largest non-Christian religion in the U.S. was Judaism, and in the post-realignment era during which the Democrats had transitioned from being the conservative part of the South (in which the Republicans replaced it), to the left leaning part of the North (which was previously the role of the Republican party), Jews in the U.S. have leaned strongly towards the Democratic Party.

But since the 1960s, there has been significant Muslim immigration to the U.S. as a result of U.S. immigration law reforms, and there have been significant numbers of native born Americans who have converted to Islam, starting in earnest with a wave of African-American converts, exemplified by Malcolm X, in the U.S. Civil Rights movement.

Muslims in the U.S. have also disproportionately affiliated themselves with the Democratic party, because the Republican party was perceived as hostile towards immigrants and non-Christians, even though Muslim immigrants were conservative leaning on many policy issues. Almost all other non-Christian religious populations from Hindus to Sikhs to Buddhists to Wiccans are also disproportionately Democrats, for similar reasons, as are non-religious voters.

Now, the number of U.S. Jews and the number of U.S. Muslims are close to comparable with each other, and both religious-ethnic populations are disproportionately Democrats. There are about 6 million Jews in the U.S., defined narrowly and almost an equal number who are ethnically but not religiously Jewish, and about 3.5 million Muslims, and the number of Jews in the U.S. is stagnant or falling, while the number of Muslims is growing rapidly.

On the other hand, the U.S. has more Jews than any country in the world except Israel (depending upon the definitions of Jew used), and perhaps 80% or more of all Jews in the world (depending upon how the definition of being a Jew is defined) live in either Israel or the U.S. (there are also many dual citizenship Israeli-Americans). In contrast, less than one percent of the world's Muslims live in the U.S. There are almost twice as many Muslims in territory controlled by Israel than there are in the U.S.

So, unequivocal support for Israel as a majority Jewish state over Islamic counterparts to Israel has become a less obvious decision for the Democratic party as a whole. This has slowly, over time, influenced Democratic party attitudes towards Israel, although so far, this has not reached a tipping point of opposition to support for Israel.

Republican support for Israel, meanwhile, is partially rooted in Evangelical Christian understandings of the role that Israel may play in their "end times" theology and their recognition that Christianity is derived from Judaism and was founded mostly by Jews, whose Hebrew Bible they share with Jews.

GOP support for Israel also draws on Republican animosity towards Muslims (which pushed Muslim immigrants who agreed with many conservative Republican policy positions into the Democratic party).

For example, on January 29, 2002, in his State of the Union speech, President George W. Bush branded three countries — North Korea, Iran and Iraq — as rogue states that he said harbored, financed and aided terrorists. He called them an "axis of evil." Two of those states were predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East that were very unfriendly towards Israel.

Similarly, President Trump, in 2015 called for a "Muslim ban" on Muslim immigration to the U.S. in his campaign for the Presidency, which he eventually imposed in a modified form in 2017 when he was elected President.

The partisan politics of opposition to Russia

Republicans were historically emphatically in favor of military aid to countries at odds with Russia.

For example, in former President Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech on March 8, 1983, Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" and as "the focus of evil in the modern world".

Democrats also supported opposition to Russia during the Cold War but were more skeptical of U.S. anti-Russian policy.

But in the Trump era, populist Republicans have taken a less oppositional role towards Russia viewing Putin more favorably than they had previously, and they have been skeptical of U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

Democrats, meanwhile, have held steady in their opposition to Russia or even grown stronger in their opposition to it in international affairs as Russia has transitioned in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union from being an officially secular socialist authoritarian regime to being an Orthodox Christian leaning crony capitalist authoritarian regime.

Unaffiliated voters

Conventional wisdom holds that independent voters tend to be skeptical of foreign aid generally. But dramatic international events and strong bipartisan political leadership can rapidly change public opinion on this issue.

Is there any evidence that, during past election cycles, the US reduced support to its allies and looked more inward?

One of the most notable examples is in the period leading up to World War II.

World War II started on September 1, 1939. But the United States only joined as a direct party to World War II in December of 1941 in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack by Japan on Hawaii.

For the previous twenty-six months or so, the United States took an isolationist position for political reasons, providing economic support to the Allies but not participating in the war as a combatant for two years, in a manner not dissimilar to the way that the U.S. is currently providing economic and military supply aid to Ukraine, but is not a combatant in Ukraine's war with Russia.

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Question

Do American elections affect the level of US foreign support?

Short Answer

No America politician ever lost an election from kissing a baby, giving aid to Israel, or poking their finger in a Russian's eye.

Answer

Yes, everything America's government does during an election cycle is subject to political review and litmus test on whether it helps or hurts the re-election. I imagine that's true of any Republic/democracy. Support for such aid is a factor of how popular the incumbent is, how popular the aid package is, what factions in the legislature oppose or favor it and somewhere in their how important the aid is to the recipient.

In Israel's case lawmakers on both sides of the isle will be knocking themselves out rushing to provide Israel more aid. So the election cycle works in Israel's favor. Which is why Biden is linking Ukrainian aid to Israeli aid, so it will work In Ukraine's favor too.

While Ukrainian aid is a bit more troublesome it's not any less popular broadly. Currently in the US there is a minority faction in Congress who is griping about Ukrainian aid. The majority of both parties however support Ukrainian aid too. It will get done. It's just going to need to be "handled".

From The Comments.

"it's not any less popular broadly"[citation needed]. 70-something Republicans voted against more aid for Ukraine, albeit in a non-binding res, IIRC. The similar number against Israel was like 4 Democrats, some years ago - Fizz

Which is why I said broadly. 70 congressman is what 16%? So that means 84% of the house supports Aid to Ukraine. That's pretty strong. The Senate's support is stronger.

Fringes of both parties are questioning Ukrainian aid. Majority of both parties as well as the American people continue to broadly support Ukrainian aid.

Americans’ support for helping Ukraine remains strong. Just look at the polls.

August 22, 2023

after pollsters told respondents that the United States had spent the equivalent of 3 percent of the annual US military budget on direct military aid and that Ukraine had “severely degraded Russia’s military power,” support jumped to 65 percent in favor, including 77 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans.

Mitch McConnell says there's 'no excuse' not to support Ukraine
Mitch is the Highest ranking Republican in the Senate

McConnell predicts US aid will flow to Ukraine ‘for a good deal longer’

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