Nearly half of Americans now say they would bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities to stop its uranium enrichment in order to halt its advances toward an ability to build a nuclear weapon – even as President Obama touts diplomacy as still the best means of addressing the Iranian nuclear issue.
That plurality of support among Americans for airstrikes against Iran is one of the findings of a new poll by the London-based YouGov organization and its research arm, YouGov-Cambridge, which also finds a generally wide gulf between Americans and Europeans on the use of force against Iran.
“The American public is generally at one end in these sorts of [transatlantic] surveys about the use of force in the Middle East, with the Germans always the most shy about military intervention,” says Joel Faulkner Rogers, director of YouGov-Cambridge (UK). “But this [poll] also finds these really big gaps between Democrats and Republicans when the question is Iran.”
Indeed, two-thirds of Republicans support bombing Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities as opposed to 38 percent of Democrats, the poll finds. A similar 30-point gap exists on the question of whether Iran is trying to build a bomb: while 56 percent of Democrats say they believe that is Iran’s goal, a whopping 86 percent of Republicans hold that view.
YouGov released the survey just as the international debate intensifies over how to address Iran’s nuclear program, and in particular over how close Israel is to launching airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Last week some Israeli officials suggested an attack could be imminent, causing heightened tensions and a spike in attention to the issue.
On Sunday President Obama said in an interview with NBC that he still favors addressing Iran’s nuclear progress through diplomatic means (on Monday he signed new sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran to change course and cooperate with the international community) and that he does not believe Israel has decided to bomb Iran’s facilities.
Some US officials said privately that the president’s comment on Israel’s intentions reflected his recent conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Netanayahu will be in Washington the first week of March to deliver a speech to the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and is expected to again discuss the issue with Obama.
The YouGov survey finds that 44 percent of Americans either strongly support or somewhat support bombing Iran, while 35 percent would oppose such action, with 18 percent of those voicing strong opposition. About 1 in 5 said they “don’t know.”
That compares to just 18 percent of Germans who support military action against Iran, and slightly more (23 percent) of Britons – even though a higher percentage of both Germans and Britons believe Iran is “probably enriching uranium to make nuclear weapons,” compared with Americans.
The YouGov poll finds that upwards of 70 percent of Europeans believe Iran’s intent is to build a bomb, while 64 percent of Americans hold that view.
The survey’s organizers say they are not surprised at the transatlantic gap on bombing Iran. “Europe has always been a lot more circumspect from day one after the Twin Towers came down about using military force for fighting international terrorism, and here again we see that,” Dr. Rogers says.
Indeed, a recent separate poll of Americans finds high support for Obama’s approach to counterterrorism, including a considerable uptick in the use of attacks by unmanned drones to take out suspected international terrorists.
Still, one curiosity revealed by the YouGov’s poll: The Danish people are noticeably more aggressive toward Iran than their European brethren, with the Danes, at 37 percent in favor, approaching the American level of support for bombing Iran. The Danes are also considerably more convinced than Americans – 76 percent compared to 64 percent – that Iran is set on building a nuclear weapon.
Denmark was also one of the few European countries to join President George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” in the Iraq war. Denmark has had the highest per capita participation in the Afghanistan war among NATO countries, and it has also suffered the highest per capita casualty rate among participants in the Afghan war’s International Security Assistance Force.
The YouGov poll finds that Americans and Europeans are closest on the question of imposing increased economic sanctions on Iran, with 70 percent of Americans, Britons, and Danes – and 74 percent of Germans – supporting that option. Support for sanctions was lower among Middle Eastern publics queried on the question. But with 44 percent of respondents in several Middle Eastern countries favoring tougher sanctions, the poll suggests a certain level of concern in the region about Iran’s nuclear program.