Trump and (Nuclear) War
According to an ABC/WaPo/Langer poll from late January, six in ten Americans do not trust Trump to handle his nuclear authority “responsibly” (60%). Among these respondents, 88% are very or somewhat concerned that he “might launch a nuclear strike without justification” (55 and 33%)—53% of the public overall.
As with most issues related to the President, there is a sharp partisan split on this question. More than three quarters (77%) of Republicans trust Trump to handle his nuclear authority, while 90% of Democrats do not trust him. And 84% of Democrats say they are worried that Trump will launch a nuclear strike without justification, compared with just 17% of Republicans. (ABC/WaPo/Langer)
These findings align with two earlier polls. In December, Quinnipiac found that 55% of voters say Trump has made them feel “less safe” vis-à-vis overseas threats; in early January, Economist/YouGov found 55% of adults are concerned that Trump will get us into war.
Partisan divides in those polls are similar to the ABC/WaPo/Langer poll: 66% of Republicans say they feel safer under Trump, while 87% of Democrats feel less safe. Half of Republicans consider it unlikely that he will get the US into war, while 85% of Democrats consider it likely. (Quinnipiac; Economist/YouGov)
All of these polls underscore the public’s anxiety about Trump’s judgment in handling nuclear weapons and conflict. We recommend advocates use these polls in messaging that challenges “sole authority” and the administration’s bellicose posturing toward North Korea and Iran.
A majority of Americans continue to support a diplomatic approach to the North Korea situation.
Economist/YouGov found that 64% support direct negotiations with North Korea. Quinnipiac’s December poll found 54% of Americans believe the US can resolve the North Korea situation diplomatically.
A plurality (46%) somewhat or strongly opposes military action to end North Korea’s nuclear program (20 and 26%), while 33% somewhat or strongly support military action (20 and 13%), according to Economist/YouGov. However, 47% percent believe it is very or fairly likely the US will engage North Korea militarily (12 and 35%).
Once again, partisan divides are marked, with 64% of Republicans favoring military action to end North Korea’s nuclear program and 66% of Democrats against it. Of all respondents in favor of military action, 62% would support military action even if it were to cause nuclear war with China—20% overall. (Economist/YouGov; Quinnipiac)
It is important to remember that enthusiasm for diplomacy tends to be lower when respondents are asked about more specific diplomatic options (illustrated in our Fall North Korea special bulletin).
A widespread belief in the likelihood of war, coupled with opposition to it, underscores the findings of the previous section: the public does not trust President Trump to handle his war powers responsibly.
US–Russia Nuclear Cooperation
The Chicago Council and Levada Center (Russia’s only independent polling agency) released a joint study on American and Russian perceptions of the US–Russia relationship. Both Americans and Russians tend to prioritize nuclear issues when asked about prospective areas of cooperation.
Russian and American majorities consider the possibility of any country, friendly or unfriendly, acquiring nuclear weapons a critical threat (52 and 62%). Russians and Americans diverge on the North Korean threat, however. Seventy-five percent of Americans consider the North Korea nuclear program a critical threat, compared with 37% of Russians.
Both Russians and Americans nonetheless view nuclear issues as central to US–Russian cooperation. Of nine distinct choices, 38% of Americans (a plurality) consider eliminating North Korea’s nuclear program the number one priority for US–Russian cooperation. In second place is reducing nuclear weapons worldwide (14%).
While only 9% of Russians consider eliminating North Korea’s nuclear program the number one priority of the nine choices, a plurality (27%) sees reducing nuclear weapons worldwide as such. In second place is ending the conflict in Syria (24%) (Chicago Council/Levada Center)
While Americans and Russians diverge on the North Korea threat, this poll suggests that nuclear issues, in a general sense, are an important component to public perceptions of the US–Russia relationship.