Here's What Americans Think About Trump's Iran Policy

Ariel Edwards-Levy
·6 min read

Americans split narrowly in favor of President Donald Trump’s decision to order the airstrike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds, but express qualms about the president’s decision-making process and the strike’s possible repercussions. Overall views of the administration’s foreign policy remain underwater.

Forty-three percent of Americans approve of the decision to order the airstrike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, according to the poll, with 38% disapproving and 19% unsure. (Although there’s not yet much additional polling on the strike, a separate YouGov survey found the public about evenly divided on Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani.)

Views are largely divided along partisan lines. However, breaking from an often-seen pattern of polarization toward Trump’s actions, his supporters are more unified than his opponents: 84% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents approve of the strike, compared with the 71% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who disapprove.

Trump said in a statement that the strike was intended “to stop a war,” not “to start a war.”

But a 57% majority of Americans say they believe the strike makes further military conflict between the U.S. and Iran more likely than before, with just 8% expecting it to act as a deterrent and the rest unsure or saying it would have no effect either way. The public is also about evenly split on the decision to send 3,500 additional U.S. troops to the Middle East, with 40% approving and 39% disapproving.

The poll’s results reflect concern over Trump’s decision-making ― an argument made by top Democrats, who were not consulted before the airstrike. Americans say, 43% to 35%, that Trump did not plan carefully enough before ordering the strike. They also say, 44% to 34%, that Trump should have gotten authorization from Congress before ordering the killing.

Most of the public sees the strike as increasing the chances of further military conflict. (Photo: Ariel Edwards-Levy/HuffPost)
Most of the public sees the strike as increasing the chances of further military conflict. (Photo: Ariel Edwards-Levy/HuffPost)

Americans say, 46% to 40%, that they disapprove of Trump’s handling of Iran issues. Back in July 2018, a poll taken shortly after Trump tweeted an all-caps threat to Iran’s president found a similar margin of disapproval.

In the new survey, Americans say 47% to 32% that Trump does not have a clear strategy for dealing with Iran.

Half the public disapproves of Trump’s overall handling of foreign policy, with 39% approving.

Views about Trump's foreign policy -- and strategic vision -- are sharply polarized. (Photo: Ariel Edwards-Levy/HuffPost)
Views about Trump's foreign policy -- and strategic vision -- are sharply polarized. (Photo: Ariel Edwards-Levy/HuffPost)

A 71% majority of Americans now consider Iran at least a somewhat serious threat to the U.S., with 36% calling it a very serious threat. Forty-three percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaners call Iran a very serious threat, while 35% of Republicans and Republican-leaners say the same. In the summer of 2018, Republicans had been modestly more likely than Democrats to rate Iran as a very serious threat.

There’s reason to think people’s views on the issue remain subject to change. Past polling on the Iran deal proved widely variable and highly dependent on framing ― Americans, for instance, were more likely to back the nuclear agreement when they were reminded that its goal was to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons than if they were given less context. Such variability is often a sign that public opinion on an issue remains malleable and subject to prompting by political leaders.

That’s especially true of events about which relatively few people have strong preexisting opinions. In this survey, only about a quarter of Americans say they’d heard of Soleimani prior to his killing. Because people may sometimes exaggerate their knowledge of current events, and because survey respondents may be somewhat more civically engaged than the average American, that figure is, if anything, on the high side.

It’s difficult to predict how public opinion on Iran might evolve in the coming months. It’s even tougher to say how the developments might affect the presidential election.

Iran has already come up in the Democratic primary: former Vice President Joe Biden has used the killing of Soleimani to highlight his foreign policy credentials, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has touted his antiwar record.

A 62% majority of registered voters who are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party name Biden as one of the candidates they trust on Iran.

Although this puts him squarely ahead of his rivals, Biden doesn’t enjoy a monopoly on the issue: two-thirds of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters say they trust multiple candidates. About half ― 47% ― say they have trust in Sanders, with an identical 47% trusting Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 31% trusting former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, 25% trusting Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and 24% trusting New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. Fewer than 20% expressed trust in any of the other Democratic candidates.

Among the full electorate, 41% of registered voters say they don’t trust any of the Democratic candidates to handle Iran. About a third trust Biden, with about a quarter trusting Sanders and Warren, and fewer than 20% picking any of the other candidates.

For now, about half of all voters say foreign policy will be very important to their presidential vote this year. But that’s not a guarantee that the issue is at the top of their minds now, or that it’ll remain so until November. When voters are asked about foreign policy in the context of other issues, rather than as a stand-alone topic, it regularly polls toward the bottom of their priorities.

Neither party holds a substantial advantage on Iran, with 44% of voters saying they trust Democrats more to handle Iran, and 40% saying they have more faith in Republicans.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Jan. 3 to Jan. 5 among U.S. adults, including 364 Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some but not all potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

Love HuffPost? Become a founding member of HuffPost Plus today.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.