On the topic of nuclear proliferation, we know (more or less) what the media is saying, what the Democrats are saying, and what the Republicans are saying but what hasn’t been shared is the collective voice of the American people.
Released on September 10th, 11 years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Chicago Council has conducted a survey comparing public attitudes toward American foreign policy in 2002 and 2012. The survey polled approximately 1800 people selected at random and from a wide range of demographics. Specific attention was paid to obtaining significant representation of “millenials” (ages 18-29). Most significantly, this survey ranks how respondents perceive the “critical threats” to the United States’ vital interests in the next ten years. The top three are: 1) international terrorism (67%, down from 91% in 2002), 2) Iran’s nuclear program (64%) and 3) the potential for unfriendly countries to acquire nuclear weapons (63%). Right up our alley.
If the choice is between war with Iran and diplomatic engagement with Iran, the American people revert to the ‘60s mantra of “peace, love, and understanding”. The resounding conclusion from this polling data is that Americans favor diplomacy as the main tool in maintaining national security.
This is most true in the case of Iran. A minority (45%) would support a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, if it were authorized by the UN Security Council. A mere 27% would support a unilateral attack. Even among the 18% of Americans who believe Iran already has a nuclear weapon, 68% oppose a military strike.
Overwhelmingly, however, 79% favor continued diplomatic engagement with Iran. 82% support continued diplomatic efforts to suspend North Korea’s nuclear program. From this we can infer a moderate satisfaction with the Obama administration’s emphasis on diplomacy and sanctions in dealing with Iran. 80% of respondents do believe sanctions on Iran could be tightened even more.
The study also compared responses between respondents in Republican and Democrat districts. Although the picture painted by the media is one of increased partisan polarization, the Chicago Council study found that on foreign policy, republicans and democrats do not show vast differences in opinion. We can see, however, that Republicans are more likely to support an attack on Iran than Democrats are. Still, a majority of Republicans (59%) oppose a unilateral American strike on the Islamic Republic.
Despite Israeli President Bibi Netanyahu’s frustration with the Obama administration’s reluctance to declare definitive red lines that would prompt a US military attack against Iran, this survey further highlights Obama’s prudence in opposing a premature strike. After all, the US should be a nation “by the people, for the people” – especially during election season.