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Independence Day blues? Americans sense a decline and look inward.

A poll on the eve of Independence Day confirms: More Americans see the nation as less powerful and more vulnerable. They want leaders to focus less on the world and more on challenges at home.

By Staff writer / July 3, 2011

Fireworks celebrate Independence Day after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida on July 2, 2011.

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Washington

As they fire up their grills and light their kids’ sparklers this Fourth of July, Americans are feeling less and less like their country is the world’s sole remaining superpower.

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And with their sense of threat from overseas waning, they want their leaders to focus more on challenges at home, including the economy – and less on entangling the United States in the world’s affairs.

Those are among the findings of a new poll released on the eve of this Independence Day weekend by Time magazine and the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Ideas Festival.

The poll – which finds that more than two-thirds of Americans consider the last 10 years to have been a decade of decline for America – is in sync with other surveys of American opinion in recent months. According to the poll, three-fourths of Americans say economic weakness poses a bigger danger to the US than do national security threats.

In May, a Pew Research Center poll found that majorities in every partisan group of the population – including, for the first time in the decade of 9/11, conservative Republicans – agreed with the statement that the US “should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems here at home.”

Other recent Pew polls have found Americans’ “mind-our-own-business” thinking at its highest level since the end of the Cold War.

Significantly, one Pew poll recently found that not just average Americans, but “opinion makers” as well, increasingly favor a less assertive global role for the US – a finding that led Pew Research Center Director Andrew Kohut to dub the dawning era as one of significant transition from the nation’s post-9/11 mindset.

In some ways, Americans’ inward turn seems to reflect their leaders’ recent rhetoric. Last month President Obama declared, in announcing his plans for a troop drawdown in Afghanistan, “America, it is time to focus on national-building here at home.”

The president’s decision to play a supportive role to other NATO powers in the Libya conflict – what some have called “leading from behind” – would have never occurred under President George W. Bush, some foreign-policy analysts insist. But it is also a stance that seems to reflect public sentiment that America need not be in the lead in all conflicts – as suggested by polls showing Americans favor Mr. Obama’s concept of a supportive role for the US in Libya.

But some foreign-policy experts who are also critics of the president say that, while the biggest player in the country’s isolationist turn is no doubt the economy, it doesn’t help to have a president who they say is himself retreating from the world.

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