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COMMENTARY

Pre-debate, Ohio and Florida voters interested in foreign policy

October 21, 2012|By James Rainey
  • Voters wait in line to cast their ballots at the Wood County Court House in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Voters wait in line to cast their ballots at the Wood County Court House in… (J.D. Pooley / Getty Images )

While jobs and the economy remain their primary concerns, a strong majority of voters in the swing states of Ohio and Florida say they are interested in America’s relations with other countries heading into Monday night’s foreign policy debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, according to a new survey.

The poll found that 61% of Florida voters called foreign affairs one of the most important or a "very important" issue, while 59% of Ohio voters reached the same conclusion.

Voters are closely divided, though, on whether the U.S. should pay more or less attention to foreign relations compared to the situation at home. In Florida, 48% of those surveyed wanted to pay less attention to problems overseas compared to domestic matters, while 45% felt the opposite. In Ohio, in a mild contrast, 51% preferred an active U.S. overseas compared with 42% who wanted the balance of attention to be on domestic affairs.

INTERACTIVE: Battleground states map

A Democratic and a Republican pollster worked together to complete the survey for the  Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Those surveyed expressed much more interest in war and peace and direct threats to America than in more philosophical or egalitarian goals, like making life better for foreigners. Respondents said they were “very interested” in hearing the candidates’ views on the possibility of Iran getting nuclear weapons (72% in Florida, 61% in Ohio) and terrorism (69% Florida, 64% Ohio).

Smaller majorities in the two states said they were interested in “human rights” as an issue — 54% in Florida and 59% in Ohio.

Majorities in both states said they would like the media to report more on foreign affairs and would support more geography education in public schools.

That’s probably a good thing. About 66% of Floridians and 54% of Ohioans in the poll said they were unfamiliar with British Prime Minister David Cameron. A lot more felt familiar with a movie actress: Just 13% of Ohioans and 15% of Floridians said they did not know of Nicole Kidman.

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james.rainey@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesrainey

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