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Americans See Newer Threats On Par With Ongoing Conflicts

Americans See Newer Threats On Par With Ongoing Conflicts

by Lymari Morales

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In a sign of the times, Americans are now about as concerned about Iran's and North Korea's nuclear capabilities and drug violence in Mexico as they are about the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and international terrorism in general. At least 8 in 10 Americans express some level of concern about each.


These are the findings of a Gallup Poll conducted April 1-2, 2009, before North Korea's weekend rocket launch, in which Americans were asked to state their levels of concern about a variety of international matters. While the long-standing issues of international terrorism, Afghanistan, and Iraq rank highest in terms of overall concern, it is noteworthy that Americans express similar levels of concern about the emerging threats posed by Iran, North Korea, and Mexico.

Key Findings

  • International terrorism concerns Americans most -- 88% say they are concerned, including 59% who are very concerned.
  • Americans are next-most likely to be "very concerned" about Iran's nuclear capabilities (54%) and North Korea's nuclear capabilities (52%). In terms of overall concern, the rankings of both are nearly as high as those of Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Americans are slightly more likely to be "very concerned" about the conflict in Afghanistan (51%) than about the conflict in Iraq (48%). These ongoing conflicts rank second and third, respectively, in terms of overall concern.
  • The emerging issue of drug violence in Mexico is rated almost on par with concerns about Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea -- 79% of Americans are concerned, including 51% who are very concerned.
  • The military threat posed by China concerns Americans more than the military threat posed by Russia -- 39% are very concerned about China, while 25% are very concerned about Russia. While these threats are less worrisome to Americans than the others discussed thus far, more than 6 in 10 Americans do express some concern about them.
  • The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians concerns 72% of Americans -- ranking it toward the bottom of the overall list. Only 35% are very concerned.

While Americans overall deliver a pretty solid consensus on the threats they deem very troubling, the results by partisan group do diverge somewhat. Republicans are in most cases more likely than Democrats to be "very concerned" about these international matters -- especially in regard to international terrorism, Iran, and North Korea, where the gap in reported concern is at least 20 percentage points in each case. Republicans and Democrats are most aligned on Iraq, Afghanistan, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Mexico.


Taken together, these findings underscore the difficult road ahead for the Obama administration in terms of international security and foreign affairs. Prior to President Obama's trip abroad over the past week, 61% of Americans said they approved of the way he was handling foreign affairs. During his trip, Obama reacted strongly against North Korea's rocket launch, urged allies to take a firm stand against Iran, and accepted invitations to visit both China and Russia. It remains to be seen how such actions might affect Americans' relatively high level of worry about the many and diverse international threats facing the United States at this time.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 988 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 1-2, 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.

These questions were asked of random half-samples for two nights of Gallup Daily polling, which interviews 1,000 U.S. adults each night.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line 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.

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