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Americans’ Opinions About Iran

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

By Joseph Carroll

Over the weekend, Iran reached an agreement with three European nations -- Great Britain, Germany, and France -- to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, which would have potentially aided Iran in the development of nuclear weapons.

Public Opinion of Iran

Historically, Iran has not been a popular country in the eyes of the American public.

Most recently, in February this year, Gallup asked Americans to rate 22 nations as favorable or unfavorable, and Iran ranked near the bottom of the list. Only North Korea and the Palestinian Authority were rated lower.

The Feb. 9-12 poll shows that 17% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Iran, while 77% have an unfavorable opinion. When Gallup first asked this question in 1989, only 5% of Americans rated Iran favorably. In 1991, positive perceptions of Iran increased slightly, with an average of 13% rating the country positively. Then, positive views of Iran dropped to 6% in 1996. Since 2001, the percentage of Americans rating Iran favorably has shown only slight variation, ranging from 11% to 17%.

When asked if Iran is an ally to the United States, a friendly nation, but not an ally, an unfriendly nation, or an enemy of the United States, more than 7 in 10 Americans say Iran is either unfriendly (41% in an April 2003 survey) or an enemy (32%). Only about one in five Americans say Iran is an ally (5%) or a friendly nation, but not an ally (16%).

A Threat to the United States?

Gallup’s Nov. 19-21 poll finds that 23% of Americans say Iran poses an immediate threat to the United States, while 58% say it poses a long-term threat and 14% say it does not pose a threat at all. These results show a slight increase in the percentage saying Iran poses an immediate threat. A late July/early August poll found 18% saying Iran poses an immediate threat, 60% saying a long-term threat, and 17% saying it does not pose a threat at all.

The mid-November poll also asked about the threat posed by North Korea, and the results show little difference in the perceived threat of either nation. Twenty percent of adults nationwide say North Korea poses an immediate threat, while 60% say North Korea poses a long-term threat and 15% say it does not pose any threat.

Because most Americans continue to say Iran does not pose an immediate threat, it is not surprising that most Americans oppose going to war with Iran. In 2003, Gallup asked Americans about going to war with Iran, and the results show that roughly two in three Americans (69% in an April 2003 poll and 67% in a June 2003 poll) oppose a war with Iran.

Axis of Evil

In his State of the Union address on Jan. 29, 2002, President George W. Bush called Iran, North Korea, and Iraq an "axis of evil." A February 2002 Gallup Poll found that 69% of Americans said the Iranian government was evil. Nearly half of Americans, 48%, said Iran had weapons of mass destruction, and an additional 43% said Iran did not have weapons of mass destruction but was trying to develop them.

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