Americans Feel Less Safe after Killing of Soleimani

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: Americans feel less safe after a U.S. drone killed Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani, adding to a climate of fear that makes Americans increasingly think Iran is America’s greatest geopolitical foe, and that military action against Iran could be justified.

On January 3, “the United States launched a drone strike in Iraq that killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, ramping up tensions between Washington and Tehran.” The Trump administration justified this attack as a pre-emptive strike, saying there was an “imminent threat of attack to four U.S. embassies in the region.”

As far as public opinion is concerned, the drone strike had the opposite of its intended effect. According to a Chicago Council survey, 47 percent of Americans think the strike on Soleimani makes the United States less safe, while just 28 percent say it makes the country more safe. These are largely partisan opinions, with 63 percent of self-described Republicans saying the strike made the country more safe, and 73 percent of self-described Democrats saying the opposite.

However, Americans are “now more likely to say that drone strikes against suspected terrorists are a very effective way to achieve US foreign policy,” with 35 percent saying drones were effective, compared to 23 percent in 2015. Drone strikes now rank ahead of international agreements, sanctions, and military interventions as effective ways to achieve foreign policy.

As tensions rise between the United States and Iran, the percentage of Americans who think Iran poses “the greatest threat to US security rose from 10 percent last year to 34 percent in January 2020.” Iran is now followed closely by Russia, China, and North Korea.

Americans are slightly more concerned about Iran’s nuclear program than they were a year prior, and find the possibility of a nuclear program to be more of a threat than Iran’s influence in the Middle East. This is in contrast to policymakers, who fear the latter more than the former.

Just over 20 percent of Americans would find it acceptable for Iran to revive its nuclear weapons program in the wake of the collapse of the Iran nuclear agreement. If that does occur, two-thirds of Americans would support the United States rejoining the agreement, while 77 percent would support imposing tighter sanctions on Iran. Around 44 percent would favor sending U.S. troops to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Seventy percent of Americans would support destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities in response to an attack, but only half would support sending troops to the region. Sixty percent of Americans would support “targeted assassinations of Iranian military personnel.” Across the board, Republicans are more comfortable taking military action than Democrats.

Read the full survey here.