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September 11, 2012

Majority of Americans oppose Iran war in all circumstances, support direct talks

A new survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs shows that Americans oppose war against Iran under just about every circumstance. This includes military action with UN support (51% against), unilateral U.S. attacks (70%), and even joining military action with Israel if Iran retaliated to unilateral Israeli strikes (59%). Given that Pentagon simulations predict that the US would be quickly drawn into such a conflict, noting public opposition is important.
Interestingly, support for direct talks between the US and Iran is on the rise, with 67% support, up from 61% support in the 2010 survey.
All of this is in spite of the survey’s findings of significant levels of misinformation about the status of Iran’s nuclear program:

In a new question respondents were asked what they thought was “the most recent assessment by the U.S. intelligence services, including the CIA,” of Iran’s nuclear program. When presented four options, only 25 percent of respondents choose the correct answer: “Iran is developing some of the technical ability necessary to build nuclear weapons, but has not decided whether to produce them or not.” The most common answer, chosen by 48 percent, is that, “Iran has decided to produce nuclear weapons and is actively working to do so, but does not yet have nuclear weapons.” Another 18 percent go even further, choosing the position that “Iran now has nuclear weapons.” Just 4 percent say intelligence sources think that “Iran is producing nuclear energy strictly for its energy needs.

Even so, a majority of Americans would support a bargain allowing Iran to enrich for peaceful uses if inspectors were allowed permanent and full access to facilities (52%).
The majority favoring such a bargain is greater among participants who are accurately informed about the status of Iran’s current program (64%).  The numbers against military action are similarly affected–with those who have correct information opposing military action in greater numbers:

Not surprisingly, those who say that intelligence sources think Iran has nuclear weapons or that Iran is actively working to build them are more likely to see Iran’s nuclear program as a critical threat (72% and 68%, respectively) and to support authorization of a military strike through the UN Security Council (each 52%). Among those who say intelligence sources think Iran is gaining the technical ability but has not decided whether to produce nuclear weapons, many fewer see Iran’s program as a critical threat (53%) or support UN authorization of a military strike (35%).

This is perhaps the most important message of the survey: when people have accurate information, they tend to oppose war with Iran and support diplomacy.

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