Poll: North Korea Seen as Top Threat to the United States

August 7, 2017

North Korea’s nuclear program is now a top threat among Americans, drawing the largest spike of any potential threat facing the United States over the past year, according to new survey data by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Three-quarters of Americans (75 percent) place North Korea’s nuclear program among the top threats, up 15 percentage points since 2016. Nine in ten Americans reject the idea that North Korea should be allowed to produce nuclear weapons.

For the first time, the survey also found a majority of Americans (62 percent) support using United States troops to defend South Korea in the event the country is invaded by North Korea, up from 47 percent in 2015.

Key findings from the Chicago Council Survey, which was conducted June 27 and July 19, 2017, include:

North Korea Now a Top Threat

  • Three-quarters of Americans (75 percent) now say North Korea’s nuclear program is a critical threat to the United States, placing it among the top threats facing the country.
  • Concern over North Korea’s nuclear program has spiked 15 percentage points since 2016 (when 60 percent rated it a critical threat) and 20 percent from 2015 (55 percent), the largest increase over the past 12 months in any of the potential threats included in the 2017 survey.

Policy Options on North Korea

  • 76 percent of Americans believe increasing sanctions is the best option to slow North Korea’s nuclear progress.
  • 68 percent of Americans support placing sanctions on Chinese banks and companies that do business with North Korea.
  • Only 21 percent of Americans say they will accept a North Korea with nuclear weapons in exchange for an agreement guaranteeing it will not produce more of them.
  • 40 percent favor conducting airstrikes against their nuclear production facilities, with Republicans (54 percent) more likely than Democrats (33 percent).
  • Only 28 percent of Americans favor sending United States troops to destroy North Korea's nuclear facilities, with Republicans (37 percent) more likely than Democrats (24 percent).

No Love Lost for Kim Jong Un

  • Only six percent of Americans hold a favorable view of Kim Jong Un.
  • Nine in ten (91 percent) hold unfavorable views of him, with 79 percent holding very unfavorable views, making Kim Jong Un the least favorable leader included in the survey
  • By contrast, a majority (54 percent) hold a favorable view of South Korean President Moon Jae-In.

The full report is available online here.

About the Chicago Council Survey

The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2017 Chicago Council Survey of the American public on foreign policy. The 2017 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide online research panel between June 27 and July 19, 2017 among a weighted national sample of 2,020 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error is ±2.4 percentage points.

The 2017 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.