Special to Foreign Policy

Foreign policy rarely plays a major role in U.S. presidential elections — most years “it’s the economy, stupid” — but 2016 is shaping up to be an exception. As the race for the White House swings into high gear, Americans have foreign policy, especially terrorism, on their minds. And the public now sees national security concerns, not economic issues, as the most significant challenge facing the nation in this election year.

In December 2011, on the eve of the 2012 election, 55 percent of Americans cited economic worries — unemployment, poverty, inequality, and so forth — as the most important problems facing the country, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Only 6 percent named international matters, such as defense or the war in Iraq. By December 2014, just 9 percent pointed to foreign-policy concerns as the nation’s principle difficulty, while 34 percent still pointed to economic issues. But by December 2015, 32 percent named international issues as the biggest challenge, while 23 percent mentioned economic problems.

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