Poll: American Support for US Military Bases in South Korea at All-Time High

October 6, 2016

American attitudes toward South Korea and the U.S.-South Korean military alliance remain positive, according to new survey data by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, released today.

The poll, conducted June 10-27, 2016, shows that:

  • Three-quarters of Americans (72 percent) say that U.S. relations with South Korea are either staying about the same (58 percent) or improving (14 percent).
  • Support for maintaining U.S. military bases in South Korea is at an all-time high with fully 70 percent saying that the United States should maintain long-term bases in South Korea, up from 64 percent in 2015.
  • Republicans (76 percent), Democrats (70 percent) and Independents (64 percent) all support bases in South Korea. That support even extends to supporters of Donald Trump, who has questioned the cost of such bases (72 percent).


One reason for this increased support appears to be the growing perception of North Korea as a critical threat to the United States.

  • In 2016, six in ten Americans think that North Korea’s nuclear program is a critical threat to the United States. That trails only international terrorism (75 percent critical) and is virtually tied with the possibility of unfriendly countries becoming nuclear powers (61 percent) on a list of 13 possible threats. For North Korea’s nuclear program, this is a 5 percentage point increase from 2015 when the question was first asked.
  • Among those who cite North Korea’s nuclear program as a threat, 75 percent support long-term bases in South Korea. For those who think it is an important but not critical threat, support for bases falls to 63 percent. And among those who think it is not an important threat, a minority (45 percent) support bases.


As the Council has previously reported, Americans support a range of options in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program.

  • Eighty-one percent of Americans support continuing diplomatic efforts to get North Korea to suspend its nuclear program.
  • Eighty percent also support imposing tighter sanctions.
  • Fifty-three percent support conducting cyberattacks against North Korea.
  • Kinetic options remain less favored. While 35 percent support airstrikes against North Korea’s nuclear production facilities, only 25 percent support sending U.S. troops to destroy those facilities.
  • Only 11 percent of Americans favor allowing North Korea to continue to produce nuclear weapons—the least supported option.


North Korea was the least favored country among Americans on a list of 12 countries listed in the poll.

  • On a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 representing the highest possible favorability, North Korea (19) was the only country to fall below 20. The next closest country was Iran at 26.
  • In contrast, the favorability of South Korea remains at its highest recorded value (55) since the question was first asked in 1978. That favorability also extends to Korean immigrants living in the United States. Two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) have a favorable view of Korean immigrants.


About the Chicago Council Survey
The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2016 Chicago Council Survey of the American public on foreign policy. The 2016 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide online research panel between June 10 and June 27, 2016, among a national sample of 2,061 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error ranges ±2.2 to ±3.5 percentage points, depending on the specific question, with higher margins of error for partisan subgroups (Democrats: ±3.6 to ±5.2; Republicans: ±4.1 to ±5.7; Independents: ±3.7 to ±5.3). Partisan identification is based on respondents’ answer to a standard partisan self-identification question: “Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an independent or what?”

The 2016 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Korea Foundation and the personal support of Lester Crown and the Crown family.