February 18, 2013
In U.S., 83% Say North Korean Nukes Are a Critical Threat
Tied with Iranian nuclear weapons and international terrorism as greatest threats
by Jeffrey M. Jones
PRINCETON, NJ -- Eighty-three percent of Americans say the development of nuclear weapons by North Korea is a critical threat to the vital interests of the United States, placing it at the top of a list of nine potential threats, along with Iranian nuclear weapons and international terrorism.
The Feb. 7-10 poll was conducted just before North Korea conducted its third nuclear test, so Americans already saw it as a serious threat before the latest news. North Korea's continued nuclear ambitions and defiance of international efforts to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons are likely a reason Americans' basic opinions of the country are among the most negative of any that Gallup measures. Americans also frequently mention North Korea as the United States' greatest enemy, though Iran has topped the list in recent years.
After North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons and international terrorism, Americans are most likely to view Islamic fundamentalism and China's economic and military power as critical threats to U.S. vital interests. Less than half believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Indian-Pakistani conflict, and the military power of Russia pose similar threats to the United States.
This year's poll marked the first time Gallup asked about North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons specifically. In 2010 Gallup asked about the two countries' "military power," and found 61% rating each as a critical threat to the United States, second only to international terrorism. In 2004, the "spread of weapons of mass destruction to unfriendly powers" ranked second only to terrorism. Thus, Americans have previously seen North Korea and Iran, and nuclear weapons in general, as serious threats to the U.S.
Americans Increasingly See China as a Threat
Americans' perceptions of the threat some of these international matters pose to the United States have shifted in recent years. Specifically, since 2004, Americans have increasingly viewed the military power of China and the military power of Russia as threats. Over the same period, Americans have come to view the Israeli-Palestinian and Indian-Pakistani conflicts as less threatening to the United States.
Eight in 10 Americans have consistently viewed international terrorism as a critical threat. It has ranked at the top of the list in the three times Gallup has asked a version of this question.
Democrats, Republicans Equally View North Korea as a Threat
Americans' assessments of North Korean nuclear ambitions as a critical threat to the United States vary little by subgroup, including by party identification. However, that is not the case for most of the other international matters, including Iran's development of nuclear weapons. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say most of the matters are critical threats. The greatest party differences are in regard to Islamic fundamentalism, viewed as a threat by 70% of Republicans and 46% of Democrats.
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