Half of all Americans believe that the United States will go to war with Iran “within the next few years,” according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll released on Tuesday amid increased tensions between the two countries.
While Americans are more concerned about Iran as a security threat to the United States now than they were last year, few would be in favour of a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian military. But if Iran attacked US military forces first, four out of five believed the United States should respond militarily in a full or limited way, the May 17-20 poll showed.
Historically tense relations between Washington and Tehran worsened in May after US President Donald Trump hardened his anti-Iran stance and restored all sanctions on Iranian oil exports following his decision a year ago to pull the United States out of a 2015 international nuclear accord with Tehran.
The United States moved an aircraft carrier and forces to the Gulf region in response to intelligence that Iran may be plotting against US interests, an assertion Iran denies.
Nearly half - 49 per cent - of all Americans disapprove of how Republican Trump is handling relations with Iran, the poll found, with 31 per cent saying they strongly disapprove. Overall, 39 per cent approve of Trump’s policy.
The survey showed that 51 per cent of adults felt that the United States and Iran would go to war within the next few years, up 8 percentage points from a similar poll published last June. In this year’s poll, Democrats and Republicans were both more likely to see Iran as a threat and to say war was likely.
Iran was characterised by 53 per cent of adults in the United States as either a “serious” or “imminent” threat, up 6 percentage points from a similar poll from last July. In comparison, 58 per cent of Americans characterised North Korea as a threat and 51 per cent characterised Russia as a threat.
Despite their concerns, 60 per cent of Americans said the United States should not conduct a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian military, while 12 per cent advocate for striking first.
If Iran attacked, however, 79 per cent said that the US military should retaliate: 40 per cent favoured a limited response with airstrikes, while 39 per cent favoured a full invasion.
Both the United States and Iran have said they do not want war, although there have been bellicose statements from both.
Despite Trump’s decision to withdraw, the poll showed 61 per cent of Americans still supported the 2015 deal between Iran and world powers to curb Iran’s potential pathway to a nuclear bomb in return for sanctions relief. Republicans also favored the accord negotiated by the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama, with a little more than half saying they supported it.
Gulf allies and US government officials have said they believe Iran-backed groups are responsible for a series of attacks on shipping and pipelines in the Gulf in the last week.
Trump has said he would like to negotiate with the Islamic Republic’s leaders. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected talks on Tuesday and has said “economic war” is being waged against Iran.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 1,007 adults, including 377 Democrats and 313 Republicans, and has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of 4 percentage points.
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