On Nuclear Iran, Diplomacy and Sanctions are Preferred to Hostilities

Oct 19, 2009 12:01pm

With talks underway in Vienna today, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that Americans overwhelmingly suspect Iran of trying to produce nuclear weapons – but by wide margins prefer diplomacy or economic sanctions to a military response by the United States.

Despite its denials, 87 percent think Iran is trying to develop nuclear arms. The most popular U.S. responses are direct diplomatic talks, favored by 82 percent; and international economic sanctions, backed by 78 percent.

Those far exceed support for U.S. air strikes against Iran’s nuclear development sites, favored by 42 percent of Americans, with 54 percent opposed; or for invading Iran to overthrow its government, with 33 percent in favor, 62 percent opposed.

A carrot approach also is unpopular: Just 30 percent favor offering Iran financial incentives, such as foreign aid or more trade, in exchange for its abandoning any nuclear weapons program.

Diplomacy’s being pursued, with the International Atomic Energy Agency holding talks today with representatives of Iran, the United States, Russia and France. The world powers have proposed that they process nuclear fuel for Iran in a way that deters its weaponization. The United States is pushing for sanctions at some point if a deal fails.

                        Preference vs. Iran                          Support   OpposeDirect diplomatic talks     82%       18Int’l economic sanctions    78        18 Bomb nuclear sites          42        54Invade/overthrow gov’t      33        62Offer aid/trade             30        67

Even among those who do suspect that Iran seeks nuclear weapons, fewer than half (46 percent) favor air strikes, and fewer still, 34 percent, support an invasion.

Large majorities across political and ideological groups support diplomacy or sanctions, but there are differences on military action, particularly air strikes; they hold much more support from conservatives, 56 percent, than from moderates or liberals, 40 and 24 percent, respectively.

For his part President Obama has 52 percent approval for his handling of the situation with Iran, with 39 percent disapproving, similar to last spring and summer. Roughly equal numbers “strongly” approve and disapprove, 24 and 27 percent respectively.

While this poll underscores the extent to which military action is not the preferred approach, it doesn’t predict support for hostilities if other, more popular measures first are tried and fail, and if military action is plausibly presented as the only alternative to a nuclear-armed Iran. Ultimate support also can depend on factors such as nature of military involvement (e.g., air strikes vs. a ground war) and the presence or lack of international consensus.

Click here for full results, and check back for more on this new ABC/Post poll later, with findings on health care reform and the president’s popularity at 5 p.m. and further results all week

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