Americans Want a Restrained Iran Strategy

by Lydia Saad

Most favor diplomacy and economic methods, not military action

PRINCETON, NJ -- A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds Americans in broad agreement that the United States should be restrained in dealing with Iran over that country’s nuclear program -- a program the Bush administration maintains is a front for nuclear weapons, but that Iran says is solely for power production.

Most Americans indicate they are concerned about the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons, but they are a bit more concerned about the United States being too quick to use military force against Iran. Also, by a 4-to-1 margin, Americans say the United States should rely mainly on economic and diplomatic efforts rather than take military action against Iran.

Diplomacy First

According to the Nov. 2-4, 2007, USA Today/Gallup poll, 73% of Americans prefer that the United States employ economic and diplomatic strategies to compel Iran to end its nuclear weapons program; only 18% favor military action.

Republicans and Democrats find themselves on the same side of the issue, with 70% of Republicans as well as 76% of Democrats choosing the nonmilitary option as the best first approach.

When pushed to say what the United States should do if diplomatic and economic methods fail, some of those who support diplomacy and economic efforts as the initial approach choose the military option, leaving the public about evenly divided in its preferences.

Specifically, the poll asked those preferring economic and diplomatic efforts if they would favor U.S. military action against Iran in the event the first approach doesn’t compel Iran to drop its nuclear program. The majority of this group still opposes military action, but about a third say they would favor it. The net result is that about half of Americans (46%) would favor taking military action against Iran either now or in the event diplomacy and sanctions fail, while a similar number (45%) remain opposed.

On this basis, Gallup sees greater differences between Republicans and Democrats, with a majority of Republicans (63%) willing to support military action at some point, and a majority of Democrats (56%) consistently opposed.

Fear of Fighting Words

President Bush’s recent decision to impose U.S. economic sanctions aimed at Iran’s oil business was a signal that the administration is willing to try peaceful means of resolving the standoff with Iran. When asked last week whether Bush would attack Iran without prior congressional approval, the White House press secretary responded, "We are both working with our U.N. Security Council partners as well as pursuing sanctions on our own, and there is not an intention to bomb Iran." However, both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have used harsh rhetoric against Iran in recent years, most recently suggesting that Iran’s nuclear weapons program could be a flashpoint for World War III.

Americans are more concerned the United States will be too hasty in resorting to military force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons than they are concerned the United States will not do enough to prevent Iran from developing such weapons.

About 4 in 10 Americans say they are very concerned the United States will be too quick to use military force, up from 34% saying this in February 2006. A total of 76% of Americans are now very or somewhat concerned, while 22% are not especially concerned.

How concerned are you that the U.S. will be too quick to use military force in an attempt to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons -- very concerned, somewhat concerned, not too concerned, or not concerned at all?

           


Very
concerned


Somewhat
concerned


Not too
concerned

Not concerned
at all


No
opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Nov 2-4

42

34

14

8

1

2006 Feb 9-12

34

35

20

10

1

Conversely, one-third of Americans are very concerned the United States will not do enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, up from 26% last February. A total of 73% are now very or somewhat concerned about this prospect.

How concerned are you that the U.S. will not do enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons -- very concerned, somewhat concerned, not too concerned, or not concerned at all?

           


Very
concerned


Somewhat
concerned


Not too
concerned

Not concerned
at all


No
opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Nov 2-4

33

40

17

9

2

2006 Feb 9-12

26

41

24

6

2

There is little difference between Republicans and Democrats in their levels of concern about the United States not doing enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons; about three-quarters of both groups say they are very or somewhat concerned about this. However, there is an important distinction between the two groups in attitudes about the United States being too quick to use military force. A majority of Democrats (57%) say they are very concerned about this, as are 42% of independents, but only 25% of Republicans.

Bottom Line

While Americans are concerned the United States might not do enough to deter Iran from developing a full-fledged nuclear weapons program, they are more concerned the United States will resort to military force too quickly. Americans widely agree that the initial U.S. approach to dealing with Iran over its nuclear program should be a restrained one -- one that relies on economic sanctions and diplomacy rather than military force. And even supposing that fails, Americans are at best divided over whether there should be a military response.

American public opinion about the United States’ Iran strategy lacks the hard partisan edge that characterizes attitudes about the Iraq war. At this point, those from both political parties are generally concerned about the potential nuclear threat posed by Iran, but would prefer to resolve the situation peacefully.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,024 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 2-4, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

33. What do you think the United States should do to get Iran to shut down its nuclear program -- [ROTATED: t ake military action against Iran, (or) rely mainly on economic and diplomatic efforts]?

 

Take military
action

Rely on economic/
diplomatic efforts

No
opinion

2007 Nov 2-4

18%

73

8

34. (Asked of those who say the U.S. should rely mainly on economic and diplomatic efforts to get Iran to shut down its nuclear program) Suppose U.S. economic and diplomatic efforts do not work. If that happens, do you think the United States should – or should not – take military action against Iran?

BASED ON 877 ADULTS WHO SAY THE U.S. SHOULD RELY MAINLY ON ECONOMIC AND DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS TO GET IRAN TO SHUT DOWN ITS NUCLEAR PROGRAM
(MoE: ±4 PCT. PTS.)

 

Yes, should

No, should not

No opinion

2007 Nov 2-4

34%

55

11

COMBINED RESULTS (Q.33-34): BASED ON NATIONAL ADULTS

 

2007 Nov 2-4

 

%

Take military action against Iraq

18

Take military action if diplomatic/economic efforts fail

28

Not take military action even if diplomatic/economic efforts fail

45

No opinion

9

Q.35-36 ROTATED

35. How concerned are you that the U.S. will be too quick to use military force in an attempt to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons -- very concerned, somewhat concerned, not too concerned, or not concerned at all?

 


Very
concerned


Somewhat
concerned


Not too
concerned

Not concerned
at all


No
opinion

2007 Nov 2-4

42%

34

14

8

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

2006 Feb 9-12

34%

35

20

10

1

36. How concerned are you that the U.S. will not do enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons -- very concerned, somewhat concerned, not too concerned, or not concerned at all?

 


Very
concerned


Somewhat
concerned


Not too
concerned

Not concerned
at all


No
opinion

2007 Nov 2-4

33%

40

17

9

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

2006 Feb 9-12

26%

41

24

6

2

 

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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/102592/Americans-Want-Restrained-Iran-Strategy.aspx
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