August 14, 2014

U.S. Marine Corps via Flickr

Is This Really Working for Us? Public Views on Foreign Policy 



The crisis in Ukraine, heartbreaking violence in the Middle East, the unraveling Arab Spring, disintegrating relations with Russia, gang violence and turmoil in Central America -- these are just a few of the tough international challenges we face. Do people really want the U.S. to step back from the world stage? Has the country become more isolationist? What happens when people begin to weigh the implications of U.S. disengagement?


Understanding public thinking on foreign policy is a complex assignment, whether you rely on surveys, focus groups or on community discussions. Events abroad are in constant flux, and there are few policy issues where the public learning curve is steeper.


In this month's Beyond the Polls, we take a deeper look at recent polls and focus groups and uncover some important questions Americans have about our foreign policy:

  • Isn't it time to work on our own problems?
  • Why are we always out in front?
  • Does U.S. involvement abroad really make us safer?
  • Who can we trust? Can anything really make any difference?

Read more about these concerns on our blog, and let us know what you think in the comments or on Twitter! 


The Perceptions Project: Bringing Together Scientists and Evangelical Leaders in Dialogue

AAAS/David Buller


By Christine A. Scheller


Public Agenda is partnering with AAAS on the Perceptions Project. We are helping facilitate a series of dialogues between scientists and evangelical Christian pastors throughout the summer. This post was excerpted from a piece originally published on the Perceptions Project website.

With foundational work from two focus groups and a nationwide survey of nearly 10,000 people to inform it, the Perceptions Project took to the road in May, hosting the first of three regional workshops.

Participants in the Pasadena, California, meeting of scientists and evangelical leaders reported benefiting from this unique opportunity for dialogue regarding their perceptions of science and of each other.

"There will always be disagreement that is irreconcilable. There was, however, a gentle middle ground, where discussion could be had," said one scientist.

"I found the pastors and religious leaders more diverse in their views than I had expected. ... I was also impressed with the openness most of them showed toward the scientific viewpoint," said another.

The workshops are professionally facilitated conversations about the science/religion interface using discussion guides tested during focus groups hosted by DoSER [AAAS's Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion] in collaboration with the National Association of Evangelicals and Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research and public engagement organization.

For the most part, workshop and focus group participants echoed perspectives discussed at DoSER's February 2014 AAAS Annual Meeting symposia, "Religious Communities, Science, Scientists, and Perceptions: A Comprehensive Survey."


The nationwide AAAS/Rice University survey yielded a wealth of data that will inform DoSER-facilitated dialogue going forward. The survey found, for example, that evangelicals are only slightly less likely (20%) than other respondents (25%) to report that they would read a news report about a new scientific discovery.


"Evangelicals value scientific writing and draw upon scientific sources for knowledge even if they are suspicious of some forms of science," principal investigator Elaine Howard Ecklund wrote in her preliminary findings summary.


"Evangelical Protestants, however, are more than twice as likely as the overall sample to say they would turn to a religious text, a religious leader, or people at their congregation if they had a question about science," she added.


This is one reason why this round of workshops focuses on engagement with evangelical leaders. 



Two more workshops will bring together scientists and evangelical leaders in coming months-one in Colorado and the other in Georgia.


Lessons learned from the survey and from DoSER's work with evangelicals will inform three additional workshops later this year geared toward other faith traditions. Those workshops will facilitate dialogue between scientists and leaders from Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and Jewish communities.

The Perceptions Project will conclude in spring 2015 with a national conference in Washington, DC, at which highlights and outcomes from the project will be presented.

Click here to read this post in its entirety, and read more about the Perceptions Project on our blog. The second series of Perceptions Project dialogues is coming up shortly -- keep an eye out for highlights on our blog.

Engaging Ideas

A collection of stories and reports from the past couple weeks that caught our attention and sparked consideration on ways to make progress on divisive issues.
(New York Times)
David Bornstein on the Opinionator blog asks, "How can we repair our public discourse?" He describes a group called Ask Big Questions, which started at Northwestern University, that aims to create an open space in which individuals can contribute and speak from experience without feeling pressured to win a debate or demonstrate loyalty to a position. That's what we're talking about!

(New York Times)
"This kind of ideological scrambling - one might say incoherence - has made it possible for Republicans and Democrats to find common ground and work together. But does it actually lead to desirable public policy? Nobody I spoke with in Rhode Island seemed inclined to hold up their state as a model of consultative governance for the rest of the country."

Successful efforts to improve education for for low-income children have two things in common: pushes for accountability paired with professional development. A recent book, Restoring Opportunity, highlights three such initiatives: the Boston pre-K program, the campuses of the University of Chicago charter school, and New York City's small schools of choice. 

Over 80% of new community college students intend to earn at least a bachelor's degree, yet only about a quarter of those wind up transferring to a four-year institution. Alison Kadlec, Director of Higher Education and Workforce Programs, co-wrote this resource on strengthening practices that aid in getting these students closer to a B.A. or B.S.

What have you read recently that you found innovative or informative? Tell us about it!

See You in September!

The Public Agenda Alert will be taking a short hiatus and will be back the second week of September. In the meantime, if you haven't done so already, please let us know what you think about the Alert in a brief in a brief survey.


Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate divisive, complex issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on K-12 and higher education reform, health care, federal and local budgets, energy and immigration. Find Public Agenda online at

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