WASHINGTON – For the first time since the end of the Vietnam War, both the U.S. public and the foreign policy elite see Washington as playing a less important and powerful role in the world than it did a decade before, according to the latest quadrennial survey released here Tuesday by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Pew Research Centre.

A majority of 53 percent of adult respondents in the latest edition of America’s Place in the World said the U.S. was less important and powerful in global affairs than in 2004, which was shortly after Washington invaded Iraq. That event had much of the commentariat here comparing the country’s dominance to the Roman and British empires.

Sixty-two percent of a representative sample of CFR’s membership agreed that Washington is less powerful today than in 2004. CFR’s members, who consist mainly of current and former policy-makers, academics, business executives, journalists, columnists, and other elite professionals who are invited to join, is generally seen as the U.S. foreign policy “establishment”.

The new survey found a strong public ambivalence about Washington’s global role today.

On the one hand, 52 percent of the public agreed with the notion that “the U.S. should mind its own business internationally and let other nations get along the best they can on their own.” That was the highest percentage since the question was first asked by pollsters nearly a half century ago and nine percent higher than in the waning days of the Vietnam War.

Similarly, a record 80 percent agreed that Washington should “concentrate more on our national problems” than on its international activities, and 11 percent higher than in 2004.

On the other hand, two-thirds of the 2,003 respondents in the public survey, which was carried out between Oct. 30 and Nov. 6, said greater U.S. involvement in the global economy was a good thing, and 56 percent rejected the notion that the U.S. “should go our own way in international matters” (although that was the highest percentage who took that position since 1964).

“Americans are conflicted about the U.S. role in the world,” noted James Lindsay, CFR’s senior vice president, commenting on the survey. “(A)s frustrated as the public is with foreign policy, it isn’t ready to abandon internationalism or to embrace unilateralism.”

The latest survey, which asked respondents scores of detailed questions, showed, as it has in other years, significant gaps between the public and elite on a number of key foreign policy issues.

On Washington’s role in the world, 12 percent of both groups agreed that the U.S. should be “the single world leader,” while 72 percent of the public and 86 percent of CFR members, respectively, disagreed, insisting instead that it “should play a shared leadership role.”

But of those large majorities who opted for “shared leadership,” 55 percent of elite respondents said the U.S. should be “the most assertive” of the world powers, while only 20 percent of the public agreed. A 51-percent majority of the public said Washington should be “no more or less assertive” than other powers.

The same majority said the U.S. was doing “too much” in addressing global problems, as opposed to “too little” or “the right amount.” By contrast, only 21 percent of the elite said “too much.”

Asked to identify to top foreign policy priorities, the two groups both rated “protecting the U.S. from terrorist attacks” and “preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction” at or near the top.