Outside the US, most people oppose military action, says Peter Kellnerby Peter Kellner / March 20, 2012 / Leave a comment
Barack Obama has good reason to hope that the simmering crisis over Iran’s nuclear ambitions does not boil over. If it does, say in response to an Israeli strike, and the president has to decide whether America should take some kind of military action, he may have to choose between dividing his country and dividing Nato.
YouGov recently conducted five parallel surveys on the subject: in the United States, Britain, Germany and Denmark (which currently holds the European Union presidency), and across the Arab world, from Morocco to Iraq.
Most people in all five surveys believe Iran is striving to develop nuclear weapons. Even across the Arab world, fewer than one in five people believe Tehran’s assurances that its sole ambition is to produce civil nuclear power. The problem is what to do about this. Clear majorities across Europe, the US and the Middle East oppose military intervention on the ground—whether this takes the form of a ground invasion, or hit squads assassinating Iranian scientists or politicians.
Tighter economic sanctions are popular in Europe and the US; people in the Arab world divide evenly. Where divisions open up most clearly are over what might be termed remote-controlled disruption. Most Americans favour cyberwarfare; this divides the Europeans we surveyed and repels most Arabs. Americans divide narrowly in favour of bombing Iran’s nuclear installations—something that most Britons and Germans, as well as most Arabs, oppose. Danes are also inclined to reject a bomb attack, though more narrowly.
Obama’s potential problems don’t stop there. Inside the US, there is a huge gulf between his supporters and those currently inclined to support the Republicans in this November’s presidential election. Democrats divide 45 per cent to 37 per cent against bombing Iran (net score minus 8), while Republicans divide 68 per cent to 22 per cent in favour—a net score of plus 46. Comparing the two net scores gives a massive party gap of 54. For comparison, the party gap in Britain is a relatively modest 19 (Conservatives minus 23, Labour voters minus 42).
One final point: in each poll there is a gender gap, with women always more reluctant than men to support military action. Again using net scores, the gender gaps on whether to bomb Iran are:
• Denmark 44 (men plus 13, women minus 31)
• US 32 (men plus 25, women minus 7)
• Britain 25 (men minus 24, women…