Poll: Iran Greatest Threat

A new Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll reveals that Americans believe Iran is the most dangerous threat to American security, knocking North Korea out of the top spot.

Americans think Iran is the country that poses the greatest immediate danger to the United States today, taking over the number one spot from North Korea. A FOX News poll released Thursday shows the public is concerned about Iran attacking the United States with nuclear weapons, and even more concerned about Iran supplying nukes to terrorists.

If Iran were to obtain nuclear weapons, an overwhelming 91 percent of Americans say they are concerned it would sell them to terrorists, including 68 percent that say they are very concerned. In addition, eight in 10 Americans are concerned Iran would use nukes to attack a neighboring country (54 percent very concerned), and 73 percent are concerned it would attack the United States (47 percent very concerned).

Iran tops the list when respondents are asked to say which country — without being read a list — poses the greatest immediate danger to the United States. Today a 28 percent plurality says Iran, up from 18 percent a year ago. North Korea, which was first on last year’s list, comes in second this time around at 17 percent, down from 26 percent (January 2005). Iraq (16 percent) and China (14 percent) are other common mentions.

While I happen to think these results reasonably accurate, foreign policy is a topic for which public opinion polling is spectacularly unhelpful. Frankly, few Americans have the slightest bit of expertise in this field. Most could not point out North Korea and Iran on a map, much less analyze the comparative threats of their nuclear programs.

This poll, then, is mostly a proxy for the framing ability of the media. Iran has been in the news a lot recently. North Korea has not. Ergo, Iran must be more dangerous.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kenny says:

    Agreed. More placebo than anathema, polls are specious for most topics beyond the watercooler. The caveat, in this case, to those theories being that agenda setting and media framing are limited in that they can help tell an audience what to think about, but not what to think.

  2. Robert says:

    Relatedly, check out this LA Times article:

    57% Back a Hit on Iran if Defiance Persists
    The war has not diminished Americans’ support for military action against Iraq’s neighbor if nuclear pursuits aren’t dropped.
    By Greg Miller
    Times Staff Writer

    January 27, 2006

    WASHINGTON — Despite persistent disillusionment with the war in Iraq, a majority of Americans supports taking military action against Iran if that country continues to produce material that can be used to develop nuclear weapons, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

    The poll, conducted Sunday through Wednesday, found that 57% of Americans favor military intervention if Iran’s Islamic government pursues a program that could enable it to build nuclear arms.

    Support for military action against Tehran has increased over the last year, the poll found, even though public sentiment is running against the war in neighboring Iraq: 53% said they believe the situation there was not worth going to war.

    The poll results suggest that the difficulties the United States has encountered in Iraq have not turned the public against the possibility of military actions elsewhere in the Middle East.

    Support for a potential military confrontation with Iran was strongest among Republican respondents, among whom 76% endorsed the idea. But even among Democrats, who overwhelmingly oppose the war in Iraq, 49% supported such action.

    In follow-up interviews, some respondents said they believed Iran posed a more serious threat than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq did.

  3. King-o says:

    Frankly, few Americans have the slightest bit of expertise in this field.

    This is why they elect candidates who think that continents are countries, who are easily tricked by foreign exiles who are convicted frauds into equating self-interested lies with analysis, and who doesnt know the name of the leader of a nuclear state with a majority muslim population.

  4. G A PHILLIPS says:

    Poll me this Batman;what has two pointy ears, a tail, and brays while it’s heart bleeds all over?Answer;a liberal democrat the greatest threat to our country.P.S. i think Iran and N.Korea are bad to.

  5. legion says:

    This poll, then, is mostly a proxy for the framing ability of the media. Iran has been in the news a lot recently. North Korea has not. Ergo, Iran must be more dangerous.

    While I’m sure that’s the true explanation, I think it may be correct – tho for other reasons. My (admittedly amateur) understanding of the situation is that Iran, even though farther from having no-kidding nuclear weapons than North Korea, is more likely to actually _use_ them than NK… Either offensively (an open attack on Israel or US troops in Iraq) or defensively (as a response to a US or Israeli strike on Iranian nuke development sites). NK, although run by an arguably bigger nutcase, seems less openly belligerent (today, at least).

  6. James Joyner says:

    legion: I don’t disagree on any of those points. Indeed, I open my analysis with “While I happen to think these results reasonably accurate….”

    My point is that the public is right by accident. That’s not to insult them, merely to state a truism of public understanding of most issues of foreign policy. Hell, I’m at least putatively an expert international relations and have only a general understanding of the two nations involved, let alone the technical parameters of their nuclear programs and the internal decision-making processes of their leadership.