February 4, 2020 | By Jack Benjamin

Americans Split, Anxious Over Escalation in Iran

On January 3rd, President Donald Trump spurred controversy when he unilaterally ordered the killing of top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. The assassination, which was conducted via drone strike in Iraq, provoked shock both domestically and abroad. Democrats in Congress decried the move as a violation of the War Powers Resolution, and fears of a new Middle Eastern conflict quickly spread. Iran retaliated with its own missile strikes on US bases in Iraq, which caused injuries but no deaths, and accidentally shot down of a Ukrainian airliner. But these moves have not lead to further escalation.

According to a new Chicago Council Survey conducted in January 2020 following the assassination, opinions on whether the strike will make America safer or less safe diverge along party lines. Though a plurality (47%) of Americans and three-quarters (73%) of Democrats say the strike will make the United States less safe, two-thirds of Republicans (63%) say the strike makes the United States more safe.

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In the event that Iran further attacks US military or diplomatic personnel in the Middle East, Americans overall say they would support conducting airstrikes against Iran’s military facilities (68% support), cyberattacks against Iranian computer systems (67% support), and targeted assassinations of Iranian military personnel (57% support). Americans are split over sending ground troops to destroy Iran’s military facilities (51% support), and are against using troops to overthrow the Iranian government (38% support) and conducting airstrikes against Iranian cultural sites (25% support)—a threat from Trump which was quickly withdrawn. In most military responses, policy preferences are not bipartisan, as Republicans are broadly more hawkish across the board.

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While evaluations of the Soleimani attack align along partisan lines, general consensus among the American public appears to favor diplomatic moves unless further escalation necessitates military action. With the lasting repercussions of the assassination remaining unclear, for now both nations seem to be trying to keep rising tensions from leading to war.

For more on the recent developments in Iran, read our January 23rdbrief.


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.


| By Craig Kafura

Americans and Asia in 2020: Three Things to Know

With the US election drawing near, all eyes are on the United States and the choices the public is about to make. As Americans go to the polls, here are three key things to know about American views of Asia and the key issues in the region.