WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans appear to support the Obama administration's push for "face-to-face" dialogue with Iran: 56% say the United States should engage in direct diplomacy with Iran, while 38% say it should not.
In his first press conference since taking office, President Barack Obama reiterated his commitment to seeking a new, more diplomatic approach to dealing with Iran, focused on "constructive dialogue, where we can directly engage with them." At the same time, President Obama was clear to detail the United States' dissatisfaction with Iran on several fronts -- namely its financing of terrorism, its hostility toward Israel, and its pursuit or development of a nuclear weapon. Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad quickly responded, saying that Iran is "ready to hold up talks, but talks in a fair atmosphere with mutual respect."
Gallup Polls conducted this year and in the past reveal that Americans' opinions about Iran tend to fall in line with the new president's approach. Last year, 73% said they prefer that the United States employ economic and diplomatic strategies to compel Iran to end its nuclear weapons program, and 67% said they support the U.S. president meeting with leaders of foreign countries considered enemies of the United States. Americans last year also named Iran as the country that poses the single greatest threat to stability in the world.
A new Gallup Poll completed this week finds that currently, 80% of Americans say they hold an unfavorable opinion of Iran -- more than say the same about any other country.
The Diplomacy-Ready Demographics
Certain subgroups of the U.S. population are more ready than others to support forging ahead with direct diplomacy with Iran. At 74%, those with post-graduate educations are the most likely to favor this approach. Moderates, Democrats, liberals, college graduates, and middle-aged Americans also express solid support at or just below two-thirds.
More Cautious Constituencies
Interestingly, younger Americans are the most resistant to direct diplomacy with Iran, with 38% in favor and 56% opposed. Keeping them company among the most cautious constituencies are conservatives, Republicans, and the less educated, though it is worth noting that levels of support among these groups still hover at or near 50%.
Sandwiched between these groups with levels of support near the national average are Americans aged 65 and older (56%), independents (54%), and those with some college education (51%).
Americans' support for direct diplomacy with Iran should be encouraging for the Obama administration as it pursues that approach, reiterated at this week's news conference. Although there are the expected differences in support for the idea among partisan and ideological groups, few demographic groups show decided opposition to direct diplomacy. At the same time, it is interesting to note that younger Americans --- a group that overwhelmingly supported Obama's candidacy for president -- are the most resistant. This may be due to having lived all or most their adult years in a post 9/11-era in which former President Bush constantly reiterated the threats posed by the "axis of evil." With such low ratings for Iran overall, there remains much room for improvement in Americans' views of the country -- and a new way forward appears to be exactly what many would embrace.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,027 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2009 and with 1,022 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 9-12, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.