How Americans view Bush and Kerry on foreign policy

New poll of attitudes shows people feel the election is not about the UN vs. 'go it alone,' but whether voters have faith in US actions globally.

Women are from Venus, and men are from Mars - we all know that.

But here's a bit of comforting news: It turns out that Bush and Kerry supporters are not from different planets. Indeed, a new survey of Bush and Kerry supporters finds that both sides support an America that is engaged in world affairs. But the survey also finds that it's perceptions of reality that differ.

It's not so much freedom fries versus French fries or the United Nations versus "go it alone," as it has sometimes seemed. It is more akin to: I have faith in what America is doing in the world under President Bush versus I do not.

"You can almost say that [the two sides] live in separate realities," says Steven Kull of the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland, which carried out the survey.

The most striking differences that the poll finds are on Iraq. Large percentages of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the war, and that Iraq was providing substantial support to Al Qaeda. Large percentages of Kerry supporters hold the opposite view. And most Bush supporters believe experts back their views, even after a string of high-profile reports that concluded the contrary.

More broadly, the survey finds that Bush backers support a string of controversial international treaties, including the Kyoto climate-change accords. A slight majority believes the president supports them as well - even though he does not. They also think Bush foreign policy has given the US a better image in the world. Kerry supporters don't.

Mr. Kull of PIPA says Bush supporters' views can be traced back to a strong bond many Americans forged with the president in the days after Sept. 11. "There is a sense of loyalty to the president that plays a role in prompting people to maintain views that are consistent" with that support, he says.

So "are we fundamentally polarized" as a nation? Kull asks. "I would say we are not." Kull points to consistent consensus on a lot of foreign-policy issues to support that, but adds: "There is a tendency among Bush supporters to ignore information that is inconsistent with their beliefs," especially when they involve the president. "It's [over] these reality splits that you get this high division."

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