Published November 20, 2017
National Security Public Opinion: November 2017
Welcome to Third Way’s Public Opinion Update. This month we’re including a summary of our public opinion work with Lawfare on National Security in addition to reviewing public opinion work done by other organizations.
#1. Mueller Investigation: The Public Generally Trusts Mueller, but is Still Following Partisan Cues
- Public opinion on the Mueller Special Counsel investigation changed dramatically after the first two indictments became public. Third Way and Lawfare had run some public opinion surveys before the indictments were released, which showed the public had low levels of confidence in Robert Mueller. But public opinion polls conducted after the indictments were released, like the Washington Post/ABC poll, showed the public largely approved of Mueller. When Third Way and Lawfare re-tested confidence in Mueller after the indictments, we found Americans being more likely to trust than distrust the “fairness and objectivity” of Mueller’s investigation. We also saw the very strong partisan divide that the Post/ABC and many others have seen in public opinion surrounding the Mueller/Russia investigation, with Republicans overwhelmingly distrusting Mueller and any suggestion of Russian interference in the election, and Democrats holding the opposition opinion.
#2. The Public is Very Worried About Foreign Influence and the Spreading of Fake News, even if it Helps Their Candidate
- While the public may be somewhat divided about the investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election, they are very much opposed to foreign interference in U.S. politics. Respondents to a Third Way/Lawfare poll fielded in late October were ten-points more likely to report being concerned about foreign interference in U.S. elections than not being concerned (45% to 35%). This result corresponds to a CNN poll fielded November 2-5, which found that 64% believe Russian interference in the 2016 election “should be fully investigated,” and 66% who believe it’s a “crisis” or “major problem.”
- The Third Way/Lawfare poll also found that public resistance to foreign interference in U.S. elections holds steady even if it were to help those respondents support. In fact, more than 70% of respondents either “Strongly disagreed” or “Disagreed” with the statement, “I believe that foreign government interference in a U.S. election is acceptable if it helps a candidate I support.” When presented with the same question, but for fake news helping a preferred candidate, more than three-in-four respondents disagree or strongly disagree.
#3. Iran: The Public Supports the Deal and Doesn’t Trust Trump to Deal with Iran
- A Chicago Council poll fielded from June 27 to July 19 found that 60% of Americans believe the U.S. should participate in the Iran deal. This includes 73% of Democrats, 48% of Republicans, and even 44% of core Trump supporters.
- More recent polls find similar levels of support for the Iran deal, including a Morning Consult poll conducted September 22-24 and a YouGov poll conducted October 7-10.
- The President is also not trusted to handle the situation with Iran. A Third Way/Lawfare survey conducted October 25-27 asked respondents, “How much confidence do you have in the President’s handling of Iran?” A near-majority, 47.8%, reported having “No confidence,” compared to just 18.9% that said they held “high confidence” in the President.
#4. North Korea: The Public Prefers Diplomatic Options and Doesn’t Trust Trump
- Public concern about North Korea has grown immensely in the past year. According to the Chicago Council survey conducted from June 27 to July 19, 75% see North Korea’s nuclear program as a critical threat. This is 15 points higher than in 2016 and the largest increase in any of the potential threats the Chicago Council analyzed.
- The Chicago Council also finds that diplomatic options are preferred to military options for responding to North Korea’s nuclear threat. Specifically, 76% support imposing tighter economic sanctions on North Korea, 68% support imposing sanctions on Chinese companies doing business with North Korea. In contrast, just 40% support U.S. airstrikes and just 28% support sending U.S. troops to destroy North Korea’s nuclear facilities.
- While other polls—including from Fox News and CNN—find slim majorities support U.S. military action against North Korea, a Washington Post analysis argues that this is largely due to question ordering and priming respondents to support military action.
- Given the President’s reckless rhetoric, it’s unsurprising that the public overwhelmingly doesn’t trust him to handle North Korea. In fact, a Third Way/Lawfare poll conducted October 25-27 found that 47.7% have “No confidence” in him to handle North Korea.
#5. Democrats Continue to Trail Republicans on National Security, but the Public is Largely Displeased with both Parties
- A Gallup poll from September 6-10 found that Democrats trail Republicans by 13 points (51% to 38%) on the question of “which political party do you think will do a better job of protecting the country from international terrorism and military threats.” This is a near doubling of the security gap from 2016, when Democrats trailed Republicans by just seven points.
- Third Way/Lawfare’s analysis of this question has revealed significant nuance on the questions of which party is trusted on national security. In short, neither party is trusted. In a survey conducted October 25-27, we found that if you ask the same Gallup question but don’t force respondents to choose one of the parties a near-majority (49.4%) don’t, with 25.4% saying they “Don’t Know” and 24% saying they trust “Neither.” Republicans still hold an advantage over Democrats (28.1% to 22.4%), but neither party should feel that they have the public’s trust when it comes to national security.
#6. The Public Largely Rejects Trump’s Isolationist Foreign Policy
- In July, The Chicago Council conducted a fascinating survey of the popularity of Trump’s America First approach finding that public does not support Trump’s isolationist approach to U.S. foreign policy. For example:
- The public shows strong support for military alliances, with 49% rating them as “very effective,” they’re seen as the most effective foreign policy tool, even above “maintaining U.S. military superiority” (47% “very effective” rating).
- Even 54% of core Trump supporters believe NATO is still essential to U.S. security.
- The perceived threat of “large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the United States” is lower (37% “critical threat”) than at any time since the Chicago Council began asking this question in 1998.
- 62% of Americans support U.S. participation in the Paris climate agreement.
- Despite Trump’s “Make America Great Again” rhetoric. Americans already think America is the greatest country in the world (63%).
- Core Trump supports are the most likely to say America is the greatest country in the world (91%).
- This survey is worth a longer read for the distinctions between Never Trump Republicans and Trump supporters. The Chicago Council found that largely Never Trump Republicans are closer to Independents and Democrats on foreign policy and trade issues than they are to core Trump supporters.