ReThink Polling Analysis
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PUBLIC OPINION ANALYSIS
of relevant polls released Mar 12–May 28
Peace & Security — North Korea

The Top Line 

  • Between 56 and 63% of Americans support meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-Un.
  • Around 70% support direct negotiations between the US and North Korea.
  • 46% oppose US military action against North Korea even if diplomatic and economic measures fail.
  • 62% say Trump should not threaten military action against the DPRK if it does not give up its nuclear weapons.
  • More Americans approve than disapprove of Trump’s handling of the DPRK (50–34%).
As the future of the Trump-Kim Singapore summit remains unclear, we focus this edition on public views of the summit and of diplomatic and military approaches to the DPRK in general. The polls reported below were fielded before President Trump’s letter cancelling the summit and show strong bipartisan support for diplomacy and direct negotiations.

We recommend that advocates use this data to underscore that most Americans across the political spectrum want our government to pursue diplomacy as the best approach for halting and reversing North Korea’s nuclear pursuits.

Trump-Kim Jong-Un Summit Meeting

Before President Trump cancelled, then reinstated, his highly-anticipated summit meeting with Kim Jong-Un, most Americans supported the event. Shortly after the White House confirmed the meeting in March, CNN/SSRS and Fox News both found about 63% approve of the President’s decision to meet with the North Korean leader (Fox sampled registered voters and CNN/SSRS sampled American adults). This proportion went up to 77% in a more recent May poll by CNN/SSRS. (CNN/SSRS March; Fox News; CNN/SSRS May)

This is in line with an April WaPo/ABC News poll, which found 56% of the public thinks Trump should hold a summit with Kim Jong-Un “to try to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons,” while only 36% say he should not “because it would give Kim legitimacy while his government allegedly violates international laws.” (Washington Post/ABC News)

Additionally, Morning Consult found half of registered voters (47%) say Trump should meet with Kim Jong-Un “regardless of whether North Korea makes concessions on their nuclear weapons program beforehand” while 32% think he should only follow through if the DPRK makes prior concessions (22% don’t know). (Morning Consult)

In terms of possible outcomes of the summit, a significant share of Americans is optimistic. A 40% plurality of Economist/YouGov respondents say they think the meeting between Trump and Kim Kong-Un would be “an important step toward real peace […]” while 34% think it would be “mainly for show.” And, according to Morning Consult, 47% of voters have a lot (16%) or some (31%) confidence the US “will successfully negotiate with North Korea to stop building its nuclear weapons program”; 42% have “not much” (24%) or no confidence at all (18%) in a successful negotiation. (Economist/YouGov; Morning Consult)

While there’s broad public support for the summit, most Americans remain skeptical of achieving Pyongyang’s full nuclear disarmament. Indeed, WaPo/ABC News found two thirds (67%) of the public believe it is unlikely (42% very unlikely) that a Trump-Kim Jong-Un meeting “will lead to an agreement for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons,” with only 30% saying such an outcome is somewhat (25%) or very (5%) likely. This echoes a March Fox News poll that found three quarters (76%) of registered voters do not think North Korea will ever be convinced to “give up its nuclear weapons.” (Washington Post/ACB News; Fox News)

Diplomacy in General

A Pew survey released in early May found nearly nine out of ten (88%) Americans have heard about US-North Korea negotiations over the latter’s nuclear program (44% “a lot”). Both Pew and Economist/YouGov found around 70% of adults approve of direct negotiations with the DPRK (71% of Pew and 68% of Economist/YouGov respondents). Morning Consult asked a more general question and found 80% of registered voters support (58% strongly support) continuing “diplomatic efforts” toward the suspension of Pyongyang’s nuclear program. (Pew; Economist/YouGov; Morning Consult)

All these polls show strong bipartisan alignment around diplomacy, although Republicans are about 20% more likely to say they favor direct talks (85 vs. 63% in Pew and 89 vs. 65% in Economist/YouGov). This differs from Fall 2017, when polls on diplomatic approaches found either no split or slightly higher support among Democrats—a reflection of the strong partisan signal sent by Trump’s turn from bellicose rhetoric to direct talks.

In addition, CNN/SSRS found that nearly two thirds (63%) of the public believe the conflict with North Korea can be resolved through “only economic and diplomatic efforts,” while only 30% do not. (CNN/SSRS)

Military Action

Americans remain divided about the use of military force, although opposition has grown in recent months.

According to a March CNN/SSRS poll, the public is split (46–45%) over taking military action against the DPRK “if the United States does not accomplish its goals […] with economic and diplomatic efforts.” Defining diplomatic success (and failure) will be key for advocates writing for and speaking to the media in the following weeks. (CNN/SSRS)

Furthermore, Morning Consult found a 46% plurality opposes the use of “airstrikes against military targets and suspected nuclear sites […]” and six out of ten (62%) oppose a ground invasion to “take control of the country” (43% strongly oppose). This is a significant shift since Fall 2017, when Morning Consult found much lower opposition to both airstrikes (30%) and ground troops (48%). (Morning Consult)

In line with previous polling, Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats to favor military options.

Trump’s Handling of North Korea

More Americans approve than disapprove of the way Trump is approaching the DPRK. Average findings from two May polls conducted by CNN/SSRS and Economist/YouGov show approximately 50% of adults approve of the President’s handling of North Korea, while 34% disapprove. (CNN/SSRS; Economist/YouGov)

This is an improvement for Trump over earlier polling. As recently as March, three pollsters (CNN/SSRS, Fox News, and AP/NORC) found public approval for Trump’s handling of North Korea to be around 42%.

Impact of Iran Deal

Americans are divided and uncertain about the impact of Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal on negotiations between the US and the DPRK.

Morning Consult found 29% of voters think withdrawing from the deal will make it more likely for the United States to “successfully negotiate with North Korea to stop building its nuclear program,” while 23% think it makes it less likely and 25% say it doesn’t make a difference either way. (Morning Consult)

Similarly, Economist/YouGov found 21% of adults believe killing the deal will make it “easier to secure a deal with North Korea,” 23% think it makes it harder, and 20% say it will have no impact. In both surveys a large proportion of respondents did not know or had no opinion (22% in Morning Consult and 36% in Economist/YouGov). (Economist/YouGov; Morning Consult)



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