Kerry on Plummeting Foreign Policy Ratings: ‘I Don’t Pay Attention to Polls’

By Patrick Goodenough | June 25, 2014 | 4:12 AM EDT

Secretary of State John Kerry signs the guest book ahead of a meeting with Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani in Erbil, Iraq on Tuesday, June 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

( – Confronted with the latest in a series of opinion polls showing declining American approval of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday he doesn’t “pay attention to polls.”

"I just don’t pay attention to polls,” Kerry told a reporter. “If I paid attention to polls, I would have quit in Iowa a long time ago. I don’t pay attention to polls.”

During a round of television interviews in Erbil, Iraq, Kerry attributed the poll showing to the current concerns about the security situation in that fractured country – but also pointed to the Syrian regime’s surrender of its chemical weapons as a foreign policy success.

The New York Times/CBS News poll found a foreign policy disapproval rating of 58 percent, the worst since President Obama took office, while approval stood at 36 percent.

Interviewing Obama’s chief diplomat, Fox News’ James Rosen said the poll was just the latest of several to give the administration poor grades on foreign policy, and asked Kerry whether he was “humbled by that.”

“Well, look, it’s a good thing that we don’t do foreign policy by polls,” he replied. “That would be a tragedy and a huge mistake.”

Asked whether he was doubting the “judgment” of the American people, Kerry said, “No, I’d never doubt the judgment of the American people. But I think it’s inevitable that people will have a sense of dissatisfaction when things are in upheaval.”

Kerry described the foreign policy challenges in which the administration was involved, including efforts to denuclearize North Korea and to resolve the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program, as “complicated things.”

Asked whether the administration was being effective, he said, “I believe we’ve just had a huge success in being able to get chemical weapons out of Syria.”

“My real test will not be what the American people make a judgment about today. It will be what they make a judgment about when we finish, and then we’ll see what the legacy is.”

“It sounds like you like the polls you like and you don’t like the polls you don’t like,” said Rosen.

“No, I just don’t pay attention to polls,” Kerry said. “If I paid attention to polls, I would have quit in Iowa a long time ago. I don’t pay attention to polls.”

(He apparently was referring to a time during his Democratic presidential primary campaign, when polls in late 2003 found him lagging far behind opponents Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt in Iowa. Kerry went on to win the nomination, and to lose the election to President Bush.)

When NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell in an interview with Kerry pointed out that that the poll’s disapproval rating marked “a 10-point jump in the last month alone,” he replied, “Well I think – sure, I think that’s a focus on the crisis in Iraq and the difficulties that we’re seeing with conflict. I mean, there’s no question about it.”

“But we just had an enormous success yesterday in completing the task of getting chemical weapons out of a country,” he continued. “If you ask Israel, the prime minister will tell you that is a huge positive accomplishment that makes Israel safer.”

Mitchell noted that people were still dying in Syria, where the death toll was “horrendous.”

“We do know that, and the president is well aware of that,” Kerry said. “And that is why the president has increased the assistance that is going to the moderate opposition in Syria.”

Polls show steady downhill trend

Another poll released Tuesday, for ABC News and the Washington Post, found 52 percent disapproval of Obama’s handling of the crisis in Iraq, compared to 42 percent approval. Opinion was divided over whether the president should order airstrikes against the advancing Sunni jihadists, with 45 percent in favor and 46 percent opposed. Two-thirds of respondents opposed the use of U.S. ground forces against the insurgents.

In a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll earlier this month, registered voters gave Obama’s foreign policy a 37 percent approval rating – the lowest score across 28 NBC/WSJ polls that have tracked the issue since 2009.

It’s not just Iraq that has Americans worried. In late March, an Associated Press-GfK poll found 57 percent disapproval of Obama’s response to the situation in Ukraine, where Russian intervention had led to its annexation of the Crimea region.

That poll recorded a 58 percent disapproval rating for his handling of foreign policy – a 10-point jump since the previous poll, two months earlier.

Several weeks earlier, a Fox News poll – which saw voter approval of Obama’s overall job performance drop below 40 percent – also gave him poor marks on foreign policy, especially in the area of improving America’s image around the world.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents in that survey said Obama had mostly failed at improving America’s international image, while 33 percent said he had mostly succeeded.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow