The American public is usually wrong on foreign policy. It takes leadership to understand that, deal with it and still do the right thing.

In the 2012 presidential race, the Romney campaign, for which I worked as a senior strategist, regularly asked a series of routine questions about issues that mattered most to voters. No doubt the Obama campaign asked similar questions, and I’m sure their findings mirrored ours.

As an example, here are numbers from a Romney poll taken in mid-October, before the “Foreign Policy” debate, the third debate of the general election. It showed results that were fairly constant throughout the election.

When voters were asked:

And, which ONE of the following issues do you believe should be the top priority for the President and Congress?  

Economic issues like jobs

Fiscal issues like the deficit, spending and cutting taxes

Foreign policy issues like national security and the war in Afghanistan

Pocketbook issues like rising prices, the cost of gasoline and housing

Social issues like abortion and gay marriage”

The results broke down as follows:

56% Economic Issues

21% Fiscal issues

 6% Foreign policy issues

 6% Pocketbook issues

 4% Social issues

Not that it wasn’t obvious, but this does help explain why in a “Foreign Policy” debate there was a lot of discussion of issues that touched on domestic policy, issues that voters felt more impacted their lives. “Trade” was mentioned 14 times; “terrorism” only four.

Like it or not, Americans today are just not that interested in foreign affairs. In 1964, Pew research showed only 20 percent of the public agreed and 69 percent disagreed with the statement, “The US should mind its own business and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.” By December 2013, those who disagreed had risen to 52 percent and those who agreed had fallen to 38 percent—a 63-point shift.

If you’re looking for an issue that unites Republicans and Democrats, this is it. When asked, “Should the US concentrate more on our national problems rather than international,” the results vary almost none by party: 82 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of independents agree.

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