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Americans Don’t Trust Trump On North Korea

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup. Today’s theme song is “We’re the Chipmunks” from the television show “Alvin and the Chipmunks.”

Poll of the week

A new YouGov survey found that 72 percent of Americans consider North Korea an enemy. That was by far the highest share for any of the 10 countries tested — Iran, at 40 percent, came in at No. 2, and Russia followed with 26 percent. And it outpaces the share of Americans who said on the eve of the Iraq War in 2003 that Iraq was an enemy (66 percent).

Yet despite the public’s worries about North Korea, Americans are far more hesitant about beginning a military conflict there than they were with Iraq. There are a few factors that seem to be limiting Americans’ willingness to go to war that weren’t around in 2003, and that includes the person serving as commander in chief.

To be clear, Americans believe North Korea is a problem. In October, 64 percent of Americans said in a Pew Research Center survey that North Korea was capable of a launching a nuclear missile that could reach the U.S., and 75 percent thought North Korea’s nuclear program was a “major threat.” That’s about the same share of people who thought Iraq was a threat in 2003 — 79 percent.

But most Americans don’t support a war with North Korea. In a survey out this week from the University of Maryland, just 33 percent of Americans supports military action to stop North Korea’s nuclear program. That’s far lower than the consistent majority who were in favor of a ground war to remove Saddam Hussein from power in the lead-up to the Iraq War.1

Why is there less support for a conflict with North Korea?

First, Americans’ appetite for military engagements seems to have been eroded by the drawn-out wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The atmosphere heading into the Iraq War was very different. Back then, Americans thought the Afghanistan War was going well, and the most recent war before that, the 1990-91 Gulf War, had largely been successful.

Second, Americans think the U.S. can still reach a compromise with North Korea. In October 2017, Quinnipiac University found that 54 percent of voters said the U.S. could resolve the situation with North Korea diplomatically; 29 percent said military force will be needed. That’s far different from the 58 percent who said on the eve of the Iraq War that military action was the only way to disarm Iraq.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, Americans just don’t trust President Trump the way they trusted President George W. Bush in 2003. Only 39 percent of Americans told the Pew Research Center that they had confidence in Trump’s ability to handle the North Korea situation. A CBS News poll in early March 2003 found that a majority of Americans had confidence in Bush’s approach to Iraq. Obviously, if you don’t have confidence in the commander in chief, supporting a war that he is leading is difficult.

Americans have little doubt that Trump would start a war with North Korea — an astounding 84 percent believe he is willing to use military force, according to that Pew Research Center survey. And they’re afraid he’ll do so too easily. According to a CBS News poll, more Americans said they were concerned that the U.S. would enter a war with North Korea too quickly and start an unnecessary war than that the U.S. would act too slowly and fail to prevent an attack (53 percent vs. 36 percent).

Other polling nuggets

  • Martha McSally (31 percent) leads Joe Arpaio (29 percent) and Kelli Ward (25 percent) in an OH Predictive Insights survey of Arizona’s potential 2018 Republican Senate primary.
  • 37 percent of Americans are “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the position of women in the U.S., according to a new Gallup poll. That’s the highest share since Gallup first asked that question in 2001.
  • A record-high 61 percent of Americans said they favored legalization of marijuana, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
  • Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, scored a 74 percent approval rating in a MassINC survey. Trump had a 29 percent approval rating among Massachusetts voters.
  • Just 37 percent of Americans want a border wall with Mexico to stop illegal immigration, according to a YouGov poll. The same survey put support for a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which would give temporary legal status to young immigrants who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children, at 55 percent.
  • The share of political independents among U.S. adults increased to 42 percent in Gallup’s 2017 polling. But the percentage of Americans who are true independents — who don’t consistently vote for one party even while identifying as independents — was just 9 percent.
  • Republican Josh Hawley is ahead of Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill 49 percent to 45 percent in a Remington Research Group poll of the 2018 Missouri Senate race.
  • The Rutgers-Eagleton poll gives outgoing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a 13 percent favorable rating, which makes him the third-least-popular American governor of all time.
  • Democrat Oprah Winfrey has a 48 percent to 38 percent advantage over Trump in a Rasmussen Reports poll of a hypothetical 2020 presidential matchup.
  • Gallup finds that 37 percent of Americans say their favorite sport to watch is football. It was followed by basketball (11 percent), baseball (9 percent) and soccer (7 percent). That’s a record high for soccer. And that’s the lowest share baseball has received since the question was first asked, in 1937.

Trump’s job approval rating

Trump’s job approval rating is up again, to 39.1 percent, while his disapproval rating is down to 54.6 percent. Last week, his approval rating was 38.5 percent, and his disapproval rating was 55.3 percent.

The generic ballot

The Democrats’ lead on the generic congressional ballot held fairly steady this week. Last week, Democrats were ahead of Republicans 49.3 percent to 37.7 percent. This week, those numbers were 48.8 percent and 37.4 percent.


  1. In February 2003, only 50 percent said they believed the George W. Bush administration had proved that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.