Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1998-1999 index

Distributed September 1, 1998
Contact: Tracie Sweeney

Citizens in 11 states vote on foreign affairs issues

Participants in public policy discussions favor international cooperation

Participants in the 1998 Choices for the 21st Century public policy discussion series, held in 110 libraries in 11 states, deliberated U.S. options in international affairs, then cast "citizen ballots" expressing their views. Nearly 60 percent favored a strategy of international cooperation, "even if we have to sacrifice some of our sovereignty."

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The United States should give priority to working through the international community to address common problems, "even if we have to sacrifice some of our sovereignty."

That is the choice of nearly 60 percent of participants who cast a "citizen ballot" after exploring and debating America's role in the post-Cold War world. The discussions and ballots were part of a program called Choices for the 21st Century, a non-partisan four-part discussion series held last winter and spring in 110 libraries in 11 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia.

"Too often, foreign policy issues are neglected or delegated to the so-called `experts.' But foreign policy shouldn't be thought of as a foreign language," said Susan Graseck, director of the Choices project, part of the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies at Brown University. "Today, foreign policy can raise or lower the cost of your home mortgage, create a new job, or cause you to lose the one you have. We think it's important that citizens have the opportunity to come together and consider what role the U.S. will play in the world, as well as the risks and trade-offs and domestic implications of various policy directions."

The heart of the Choices series is an exploration of four distinct visions, or "futures," that represent contrasting foreign policy objectives. Some 2,300 people ranging from high school students to senior citizens weighed these futures and evaluated them in light of current foreign policy challenges. At the end of the series, a participant could vote for the foreign policy role he or she would like to see the United States play, and could construct a fifth "future" that expressed his or her own foreign policy priorities and objectives.

The four futures are:

An analysis of the entire 1998 citizen ballot, which includes data on participants' attitudes toward the environment, United Nations, military operations, immigration and trade, is available from the Brown University News Bureau or from the Choices Web site at

The discussion series is a partnership of the Choices project, state library systems and humanities councils, and local public libraries. Support comes from a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Groups and organizations interested in bringing the discussion series to their communities may contact the Choices Education Project, Box 1948, Brown University, Providence, R.I. 02912; phone (401) 863-3155; fax (401) 863-1247; e-mail [email protected].

Choices for the 21st Century Education Project

The Choices for the 21st Century Education Project was established in 1988 as a multifaceted educational program that seeks to engage the American public in the consideration of international issues and strengthen the quality of public life in the United States. As a core program of the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies at Brown University, Choices receives research support from academics, policy experts and researchers throughout the University.