Survey: Ahead of South Korean President Park’s U.S. Visit, American Support to Defend Korea at All-time High

October 13, 2015
As South Korean President Park Guen-Hye prepares to visit the White House on October 16, Americans’ favorability ratings of the Republic of Korea are largely positive, with 83 percent of Americans saying relations with South Korea are important, according to data from the 2015 Chicago Council Survey. In addition, public support for the use of U.S. forces to defend South Korea in the event of a North Korean attack is at 47 percent – an all-time high.
American Views on South Korea 
  • Six in 10 Americans (62 percent) support South Korea exerting strong leadership in world affairs, and 66 percent view South Korea as a reliable partner. 
  • Among those who consider Korea a reliable partner, 38 percent say the security alliance helps to explain a lot of their view, and 32 percent say economic and trade ties explains a lot. 
  • While attitudes are positive overall, there is evidence of a confidence gap among Americans when considering South Korea. Only 36 percent believe South Korea will responsibly handle world problems.
Americans Concerned about North Korea but Favor Diplomacy over Force
  • A majority (55 percent) of Americans deem North Korea’s nuclear program a critical threat to the United States. 
  • Three-quarters (75 percent) favor continued diplomatic efforts to pressure North Korea to denuclearize, and 70 percent support increased economic sanctions. 
  • One-half (50 percent) of the public favors conducting cyberattacks against North Korea’s nuclear production facilities to stop it from building its nuclear program. 
  • Only one in three (36 percent) support U.S. airstrikes against those facilities. Even fewer Americans (25 percent) support the use of ground troops to end North Korea’s nuclear program.
Defending South Korea
  • If North Korea invaded South Korea, 47 percent of Americans would support using U.S. troops to defend South Korea. Forty-nine percent would oppose using troops in that hypothetical situation. That level of public support is at an all-time high. When the question was first asked in 1974, fewer than two in ten stated support.
Americans Favor Maintaining Alliance after Reunification
  • In the event of reunification of the two Koreas, Americans say they would continue to support maintaining the U.S.-Korea alliance, but they might want to change the shape of that alliance. While 32 percent favor maintaining both the alliance and the U.S. troop presence in Korea, 44 percent favor maintaining the alliance but removing U.S. troops. This has shifted since this question was last asked in 2010. At that time, 43 percent thought ground troops should be kept in South Korea versus 37 percent that favored maintaining the alliance and removing troops.
About the Chicago Council Survey
The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2015 Chicago Council Survey of the American public on foreign policy. The 2015 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research between May 25 and June 17, 2015 among a national sample of 2,034 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia using the KnowledgePanel, GfK’s largescale, probability-based, nationwide online research panel. The margin of error ranges from ± 2.2 to ± 3.1 percentage points depending on the specific question, with higher margins of error for partisan subgroups.
The 2015 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Korea Foundation, the United States-Japan Foundation and the personal support of Lester Crown and the Crown family.