The addition of foreign policy questions to the mix in Tuesday's presidential debate gives Mitt Romney a chance to convince voters that his views of world affairs align with their own, but a recent authoritative survey of public attitudes illustrates what a challenge that might be.
The survey, conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, shows a public weary of war, eager to collaborate with other nations to resolve crises, wary of entanglements in Syria, preferring diplomacy over military action to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions and ready to embrace defense budget cuts.
In other words, positions more in line with those of President Barack Obama, whom Romney accuses of timid leadership that has undermined U.S. influence in the world and imperiled the nation's safety.
Americans "definitely think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not worth the cost," said Dina Smeltz, study director for the survey. "They don't think we are any safer today from terrorism because of the wars, and they generally prefer to address delicate situations with diplomacy rather than military action."
Among key findings:
-- 67 percent of those surveyed said the Iraq War was not worth fighting, and 69 percent said the war in Afghanistan has either made the U.S. less safe from terrorism or made no difference.
-- 78 percent said the U.S. has played the role of world policeman more than it should.
-- A majority of Americans oppose keeping long-term military bases either in Afghanistan or Iraq, where last year's total pullout of American troops has been criticized by Romney.
-- 67 percent of those surveyed opposed working with allies to send arms and supplies to anti-government groups in Syria, 72 percent opposed bombing Syrian air defenses and 81 percent opposed a commitment of U.S. troops.
-- Just 27 percent favored a U.S. military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities without authorization from the United Nations, and 59 percent said the U.S. should not intervene militarily on behalf of Israel if it bombed Iran and that nation retaliated. At the same time, only 16 percent thought economic sanctions had been "very effective" in changing the behavior of nations that violate international law.
-- 68 percent said the U.S. defense budget should be cut along with other programs to address the deficit.
The Chicago-based organization, one of the nation's most prominent international affairs groups, has conducted similar surveys every few years dating to the 1970s.
The surveys provide a more thorough measurement of attitudes toward questions of foreign affairs than do typical polls.
The 2012 survey, released last month, measured opinions of 1,877 adults nationwide, with a sampling error of 2.8 percentage points.
Questioning was conducted in the late spring, but the answers provide an intriguing benchmark for an issue category that has been a strong suit for Obama in national voter surveys.
When it comes to the global arena, Romney has aimed perhaps his most sustained criticism at Obama's navigation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, accusing the president in a recent foreign policy address of trying to put "daylight" between the traditionally close relationship of the U.S. and Israel.
"This is a dangerous situation that has set back the hope of peace in the Middle East," Romney charged at the Virginia Military Academy.
The council survey suggests such sentiments may have been in sync with Republican primary voters but not necessarily with the political independents, whom Romney seeks to woo in the general election. Slightly more than half of Republicans surveyed said the U.S. should openly side with Israel against the Palestinians, but 69 percent of independents said the U.S. should not pick a side.
The Republican nominee also has criticized the administration's handling of last month's deadly attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya, seeking to use the incident as a wedge to portray himself as decisive and Obama as inept.
Romney has also accused Obama of favoring defense spending cuts, which the Republican says would imperil U.S. security.
But the survey found that a slight majority of Republicans, 54 percent, favored some reductions in military spending. More than 3 in 4 Democrats said the defense budget should take a trim as part of deficit-cutting efforts, while that sentiment was also shared by more than 7 in 10 independents.
"Republicans view the world in terms of power and security to a greater degree than Democrats and Independents," the council wrote in a summary of its survey findings. "Accordingly, Republicans see greater threats in nearly all areas tested in the 2012 survey. They are more likely than Democrats and Independents to view U.S. debt to China, immigration, terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, Islamist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Iran's nuclear program as critical threats."