December Peace and Security Polling Bulletin

For Peace and Security polls released between 10/03 – 12/07

The Top Line 

  • Concern about nuclear conflict is up since July.
  • Both skepticism about Iran and support for the Iran deal remain high.
  • The proportion of those who consider North Korea an “immediate” threat has dropped 12 points according to Quinnipiac.
  • Support for military action against North Korea declined 10 points between September and December in Economist/YouGov polling.
  • Public approval of NATO remains high.

Nuclear Conflict

Amid growing tensions with the DPRK and recent decertification of the Iran deal, a mid-October NBC/Survey Monkey survey found that 32% of adults consider nuclear attacks the “greatest immediate threat” to the United States, on par with cyber attacks and terrorist attacks (31, 34%). The October proportion is higher than July, when 25% of respondents said the same. (NBC/Survey Monkey)

CNN/SRSS found that Americans are split in their anxiety about nuclear attacks. While 51% are “not too” or “not at all” (26, 25%) worried that they or a family member will fall victim to a nuclear attack, nearly the same number (47%) are "very" or "somewhat" (21, 26%) worried about this prospect. (CNN/SRSS)

According to a June/July Chicago Council poll released in October, 62% of the public considers it a “critical threat” if any new country, “friendly or unfriendly,” acquires a nuclear weapon. (Chicago Council)

Closer to home, NBC/Survey Monkey found that the public is divided on the expansion of the US nuclear arsenal. A 43% plurality "strongly" or "somewhat" (26, 17%) opposes further production of nuclear weapons, whereas 39% strongly or somewhat (16, 23%) favor it. It is worth noting that opposition is more intense than support in this poll (26 vs. 16% feel strongly about each). (NBC/Survey Monkey)

Quinnipiac found that 53% of Americans think it is a “good idea” to create a law that prohibits the US from launching nuclear first strikes. A significant number (non-plurality) of Republicans and a majority of Democrats (44, 58%) agree on this. This is consistent with a recent Pew study, which found that the public is split on the legitimacy of preemptive strikes (nuclear or not)—48% think they can rarely/never be justified, and 50% say they sometimes/often can be. (QuinnipiacPew)

On the other hand, an earlier MIT Study suggests that, in a hypothetical war between the US and Iran, a majority of Americans (59%) would approve of a nuclear first strike.


Several polls broke since our Iran Special Edition and Trump’s mid-October decertification of the Iran deal. Public opinion has not shifted significantly. Americans are both skeptical of Iran and broadly supportive of the Iran deal.

In November, Economist/YouGov found that 74% consider Iran unfriendly toward (34%) or an enemy of (40%) the United States, while Pew found 89% consider Iran’s nuclear program a major (53%) or minor threat (36%). (Economist/YouGovPew Research Center)

Recent polls also imply continuing, broad support for the Iran deal. Hart/NBC/WSJ found that a 45% plurality disapproves of President Trump’s handling of the Iran deal. And, Public Policy Polling found that a plurality of registered voters (45%) would be less likely to vote for their congressional representative if they had “voted to take action that would cause the collapse of the agreement.” (HART/NBC/WSJPublic Policy Polling)

North Korea

Public opinion on the DPRK has remained fairly stable since our North Korea Special EditionConcern levels are high, with strong majorities continuing to support diplomatic approaches and distrusting President Trump’s ability to handle the crisis.

In line with earlier polling, Quinnipiac found that three quarters of Americans (74%) consider the DPRK a threat. Nonetheless, there has been a 12-point drop in the proportion of respondents who consider the DPRK an “immediate threat” since Quinnipiac’s August poll. This may have to do with the changing focus of the news cycle. (Quinnipiac)

Diplomatic approaches remain popular, at least in the abstract. Four national polls found that between 58 and 64% of the public believe the DPRK can be contained or that war with North Korea is avoidable, which is also consistent with recent polling. (CBS/YouGovCBS NewsQuinnipiacHart/NBC/WSJ)

While there has been little appetite for military intervention against North Korea relative to diplomacy, polling from the summer and fall indicated that between 40 and 50% would support a conventional military strike of some kind (for more on this phenomenon, see the special edition).

According to Economist/YouGov, however, support for military action actually declined 10 points, from 49 to 39%, between September and December. The greatest overall reduction was among self-identified Independents, whose support dropped from 50 to 33%. (Economist/YouGov)

Four national polls also found that between 51 and 63% of the public lack confidence in Trump’s ability to handle the situation with North Korea, disapprove of his handling of the situation, or believe he has been “reckless” when responding to DPRK threats. (QuinnipiacGallupHart/NBC/WSJCNN/SRSS)


President Trump has had a rocky relationship with NATO since his candidacy, calling it obsolete and questioning the US' obligations to its NATO allies. Yet, a recent NBC/Survey Monkey poll found that 79% of the public believes NATO is “good for the US.” (NBC/Survey Monkey)

This corroborates polling from much of this year. According to Pew, NATO’s favorability rose precipitously in 2017, especially among self-identified Liberals. This is the likely result of President Trump’s ambivalence toward the organization.

Date Released

Dec 14, 2017