On the eve of Monday’s presidential debate on foreign policy, two new wide-ranging surveys find broad support among the public for the use of diplomacy and sanctions in handling Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology, as well as an increasing willingness to consider military intervention.
The surveys also show support for limited intervention in Syria, ambivalence about the Arab Spring, and increasing wariness of China.
The first, the 2012 Chicago Survey of American Public Opinion and U.S. Foreign Policy, found that more than three-quarters of Republicans, Democrats, and independents support continued efforts at diplomacy and the imposition of stricter sanctions on Iran by the United Nations in order to curb Iran’s nuclear aspirations.
A majority of Republicans in the survey support U.N. authorization of a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, but only 41 percent of Democrats and independents do.
The second survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center, found that 56 percent of Americans consider it “more important to take a firm stand against Iran’s nuclear program,” compared with 35 percent who consider it “more important to avoid a military conflict.” That represents a slightly tougher stance on Iran since Pew asked the same question in January.
Mitt Romney has projected a more hawkish attitude toward Iran than President Obama and has more vocally aligned himself with Israel, but the differences between the two candidates on the issue appear to be more rhetorical than substantive.
The Chicago Council survey found that a majority of Americans favor sanctions against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and the establishment of a no fly-zone over the country. But only 27 percent support arming rebels, while 22 percent support bombing government military installations. Fourteen percent favor putting American troops on the ground.
Overall, Americans profess a deep ambivalence about the Arab Spring, which was considered a source of inspiration a year and a half ago. The Chicago Council survey found that 34 percent of Americans believe the movement will be “mostly good” for the U.S., and 24 percent believe it will be “mostly bad,” with the plurality, 37 percent, believing it won’t have an impact on the country.
The Pew survey found more negative attitudes, possibly because it was conducted earlier this month; the interviews for the Chicago Council survey were conducted this spring, before the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. In the Pew survey, 24 percent believe the Arab Spring will be good for the United States and 35 percent believe they will be bad, with 28 percent believing they’ll have little effect.
A separate Pew survey conducted this month also found that more Americans disapproved (38 percent) of the administration’s handling of the terrorist attack on the Benghazi consulate than approved (35 percent), with sharp partisan differences. Of those independents who followed news of the attacks closely, 59 percent disapproved of the administration’s performance.
On the question of China, the Chicago Council survey found that a majority of Republicans and independents view the country as a “rival,” while a majority of Democrats view it as a “partner.”
In March, Pew found that — by a 13-point margin — more Americans wanted “stronger relations” with China than wanted the government to get “tougher” on it. Now, as trade disputes between the U.S. and it’s second-largest trading partner flare, more Americans want the government to “get tougher” — by a 7-point margin.
In the second debate, Romney and Obama each claimed the other would not be sufficiently aggressive with the Asian country, which depresses its currency to increase exports and frequently dumps subsidized goods in U.S. markets. Romney has vowed to declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office.
The two will debate Monday night on America’s role in the world, the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Iranian nuclear threat, changes in the Middle East and terrorism, and China.
The Chicago Council survey, conducted May 25 to June 8, interviewed 1,877 adults, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.
The Pew survey, conducted Oct. 4-7, interviewed 1,511 adults, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.