October 6, 2009

Most Would Use Force to Stop Iranian Nukes

Support for Talks and Sanctions, Skepticism They Will Work

Overview

The public approves of direct negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, although most Americans are not hopeful the talks will succeed. And a strong majority – 61% – says that it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means taking military action. Far fewer (24%) say it is more important to avoid a military conflict with Iran, if it means that the country may develop nuclear weapons.

There is broad willingness across the political spectrum to use military force to prevent Iran from going nuclear. Seven-in-ten Republicans (71%) and two-thirds of independents (66%) say it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons even if it means taking military action. Fewer Democrats (51%) express this view; still, only about three-in-ten Democrats (31%) say it is more important to avoid a military conflict with Iran, if it means Tehran may develop nuclear weapons.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 4 among 1,500 adults reached on cell phones and landlines, finds substantial public support for non-military strategies aimed at persuading Iran from going ahead with its nuclear program. Yet there is considerable skepticism that these efforts – tougher international sanctions as well as direct talks with Iran – would succeed in getting Iran to drop its nuclear program.

More than six-in-ten Americans (63%) approve of the United States negotiating directly with Iran over the issue of its nuclear program while 28% oppose such talks. In September 2006, 54% said they would favor such negotiations while 32% were opposed. At the time, the Bush administration opposed direct negotiations with Iran.

Yet while the public supports nuclear talks with Iran, a clear majority (64%) says they will not work in getting Iran to give up its nuclear program, compared with just 22% who say they will work.

The public also overwhelmingly approves of tougher economic sanctions against Iran; fully 78% approve while just 12% disapprove. But again, most Americans (56%) say that tougher economic sanctions would not work in getting Iran to drop its nuclear program.

The survey finds that slightly more than half of Americans (51%) say they have a great deal (17%) or a fair amount (34%) of confidence in President Obama to do the right thing in dealing with Iran; 44% say they have not too much confidence (24%) or no confidence at all (20%) in Obama on this issue.

Seven-in-ten Democrats (71%) have confidence in Obama on Iran while 19% express little or no confidence in the president. Just 30% of Republicans say they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in Obama to do the right thing in dealing with Iran while 66% are not too confident or not at all confident. Independents are evenly split, with 49% expressing at least a fair amount of confidence in Obama on Iran and 48% expressing little or no confidence.

Bipartisan Support for Direct Talks

There are no partisan differences in opinions about whether the United States should directly negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program: 64% of Democrats approve of these negotiations, as do 64% of independents and 63% of Republicans.

However, Democrats are more likely than either independents or Republicans to say that direct talks will work in getting Iran to give up its nuclear program. About a third of Democrats (34%) say the talks will succeed in persuading Iran to drop its nuclear program, though nearly half (47%) say they will not. By comparison, just 19% of independents and 11% of Republicans say the talks will work, with large majorities of each group (70% of independents, 81% of Republicans) saying they will not.

Fully 84% of independents, 81% of Republicans and 72% of Democrats approve of tougher economic sanctions on Iran. Unlike opinions about direct talks with Iran, there are only modest partisan differences over the effectiveness of sanctions: 35% of Democrats, 31% of Republicans and 30% of independents say tougher international economic sanctions would work in getting Iran to give up its nuclear program.

Modest Attentiveness to Iran Dispute

Overall, 41% say they have heard a lot about the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, while 41% have heard a little and 18% have heard nothing at all. That is comparable to interest in the Iran nuclear issue in September 2006 (41% a lot, 44% a little, 14% nothing at all).

People who have heard a lot about the issue are more supportive of direct negotiations with Iran than are those who have heard less about the issue (71% approve vs. 58%). There is a similar gap in views of tougher international sanctions; nearly nine-in-ten (89%) of those who have heard a lot about the issue approve of tougher sanctions, compared with 72% who have heard less.

There are smaller differences between the highly attentive and less attentive over whether those approaches will succeed in getting Iran to give up its nuclear program. In addition, comparable majorities of those who have heard a lot about the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program (64%), and those have heard little or nothing about this (59%), say it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means using military force.