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As Nuclear Clock Ticks, US Public Prefers Diplomacy with Iran

RESEARCH Public Opinion Survey by Emily Sullivan and Dina Smeltz
World leaders gather at a table in Vienna for talks to resume the JCPOA.

While the public would prefer diplomacy with Iran, they are not taking more aggressive options off the table.

Negotiations to reinstate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement, or the Iran nuclear deal, are set to restart November 29 in Vienna. The talks have been stalled since hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi took power in June. Although the US public generally views Iran unfavorably, a majority of Americans would prefer to use diplomatic and economic tools to respond to Iran’s growing nuclear program rather than more forceful measures. This new round of negotiations could provide an opportunity for the Biden administration to pursue that route, though there will be challenges to persuading both the GOP and Iranian leadership to rejoin a nuclear deal.

Key Findings

  • Majorities of the overall public (59%), self-described Democrats (72%), and Independents (63%)—and four in 10 self-identified Republicans (41%)—would support US participation in a deal that lifts economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.
  • If Iran restarts the development of a nuclear weapon, however, majorities of Americans would support conducting cyberattacks against Iranian computer systems (64%) and airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities (60%).
  • Republicans are willing to go even further: two-thirds of Republican Party supporters (67%) favor sending US troops to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities if Iran resumes weapons development.
  • One in five Americans would support the United States accepting Iran’s eventual acquisition of a nuclear weapon (22%).
About the Authors
Emily Sullivan
Former Research Assistant, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
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Emily Sullivan joined the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2021 and was a research assistant on the Public Opinion team.
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Senior Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
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Dina Smeltz, a polling expert, has more than 25 years of 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 2008.
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