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Americans Feel Less Safe after Killing of Soleimani

RESEARCH Public Opinion Survey by Dina Smeltz and Brendan Helm
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Results of a Chicago Council Survey find that more Americans think the January 3 drone strike that killed Iranian Quds Force Commander Quasem Soleimani has made the United States less safe.


On January 3, the United States launched a drone strike in Iraq that killed Iranian Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani, ramping up tensions between Washington and Tehran. Results from a just-completed Chicago Council survey show that more Americans think the strike has made the United States less safe than more safe, and more name Iran as the country posing the greatest threat to the United States than any other country. If Iran restarts development toward a nuclear weapon, the US public prefers diplomacy, but more Americans now support military action against Iran. 

Key Findings 

  • More Americans believe the killing of Soleimani makes the United States less safe (47%) than more safe (28%), with 22 percent saying it made no difference. 

  • The percentage of Americans saying Iran is the country that poses the greatest threat to US security increased from 10 percent in February 2019 to 34 percent in January 2020. 

  • The US public is more concerned about the threat from Iran’s nuclear program (61% critical threat) than it is about Iran’s influence in the Middle East (50% critical threat). 

  • If Iran restarts development toward a nuclear weapon, two in three Americans would support the United States rejoining a nuclear agreement with Iran (66%); even larger majorities support diplomacy (85%) and sanctions (77%) to pressure Iran. 

  • Majorities also support cyberattacks (65%) and airstrikes (56%) against Iranian facilities if Tehran restarts nuclear weapons development. 

  • If Iran attacks US military or diplomatic personnel in the region, majorities would back cyberattacks (67%), airstrikes against Iranian military facilities (68%), and targeted assassinations of Iranian military personnel (57%). Half would favor sending US troops to destroy Iranian military facilities (51%).

About the Authors
Senior Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Headshot for Dina Smeltz
Dina Smeltz, a polling expert, has more than 25 years experience designing and fielding international social and political surveys. Prior to joining the Council to lead its annual survey of American attitudes on US foreign policy, she served in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the US State Department's Office of Research from 1992 to 2001.
Headshot for Dina Smeltz
Research Assistant
Council expert Brendan Helm
Brendan Helm is a research assistant for the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy and Public Opinion teams at the Council. After earning his undergraduate degree in international relations from the College of William and Mary, he worked at Teaching, Research, and International Policy—a survey project which examined the gap between academia and policymaking.
Council expert Brendan Helm