U.S. public backs Obama in dealing with Iran on nukes

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 6, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- When it comes to dealing with Iran as a nuclear threat, two polls out Tuesday find that Americans agree with President Barack Obama's approach of combining diplomacy and the threat of sanctions.

Fifty-six percent of American adults said that the U.S. should take economic or diplomatic action toward Iran, while 31 percent said it shouldn't, according to a McClatchy-Ipsos poll. And 66 percent said that Iran is a serious threat to the United States, while 30 percent said it's not.

A separate Pew Research Center survey found that 63 percent of Americans favor direct negotiations with Iran over nuclear issues, and 78 percent back tougher sanctions. However, 64 percent said they don't think negotiations will persuade Iran to give up its nuclear program.

The polls differ in emphasis on whether the U.S. should take military action against Iran. Asked flatly if the U.S. should do so, 61 percent told the McClatchy-Ipsos poll that the U.S. should not take such action, while 29 percent said it should.

But when Pew asked a more nuanced question — if it's more important to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if that requires military action — a strong 61 percent majority agreed, and only 24 percent said it's more important to avoid military conflict with Iran even if that allows it to develop nuclear weapons.

"It's definitely a question-wording issue," said Michael Gross, vice president of Ipsos Public Affairs, which performed the survey for McClatchy. "Any time you say nuclear weapon, people get antsy and they take that as a perceived threat.

"People are not quick to commit U.S. forces for something they do not perceive to be an imminent danger to the United States."

The McClatchy-Ipsos poll of 1,296 adults was taken Oct. 1-5 and has an error margin of plus or minus 2.72 percentage points. The Pew poll of 1,500 adults was taken Sept. 30-Oct. 4 and has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

On other topics:

The Ipsos-McClatchy poll asked half of its respondents — or 648 adults — to cite what they considered the most important problem facing the U.S. today. Thirty-five percent said the economy; 10 percent said health care; 7 percent said foreign affairs; none cited Iran specifically.

On health care, the poll found that 53 percent of Americans consider a government-sponsored alternative to private insurance to be a necessary part of expanding health insurance coverage. That's something of a rebound, up from 49 percent in late August after raucous town hall meetings and above the 52 percent of July. The percentage of Americans who said universal access to quality health care can be achieved without a new public health insurance plan declined to 42 percent, from 46 percent in August and 44 percent in July.

Little change in public opinion showed up on a series of routine questions, with 56 percent approving Obama's job performance. Nonetheless, 56 percent say the country is generally headed on the wrong track and 40 percent say it's on the right track. Fifty-five percent also say the economy has stabilized.

All numbers were little changed from previous months.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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