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Romney gains on Obama on foreign-policy issues, in time for next debate (+video)

Americans have a much-improved view of Mitt Romney's foreign-policy positions, but Obama still has the edge on which candidate would better handle international matters, a new poll shows. Monday's presidential debate is on foreign policy and national security.

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The US electorate has for months given President Obama the nod over rival Mitt Romney on handling of foreign policy, but public perceptions of Mr. Romney’s positions on international issues have recently improved – just in time for Monday night’s debate focused on foreign policy and national security.

Americans have turned increasingly negative toward China and its trade policies and have shifted in favor of a tougher approach toward Iran over the past year, according to a new Pew Research Center poll. The public's growing preference for a tougher stance toward China and Iran seems to be in sync with Romney’s harsh talk on the campaign trail about the two countries – and helps explain why he’s likely to showcase that toughness in Monday’s debate.

But the Pew Center poll also reveals a largely isolationist electorate with little appetite for US intervention in the world’s conflicts, including the fierce civil war in Syria. In that sense, the debate’s foreign-policy focus presents a potential pitfall for Romney, whose calls for a more assertive US role in the world backed by higher military spending risk turning off some voters.

“The public is decidedly more isolationist … than it has been for some time,” says Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center in Washington. Although Romney “fares much better than in previous surveys,” Mr. Kohut says, the Republican’s theme of a more assertive US role in the world “is not resonating.”

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