A majority of the U.S public believes that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be harmful to Washington’s military and stratetic position in the Middle East, according to a new poll released yesterday by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA). The poll of more than 700 respondents, conducted between Sep 27 and Oct 2, asked several Middle East and Iran policy-related questions. The questionnaire and results — broken down by party affiliation — can be found here. Questions 10-15 in the latter are on Iran and include a level of detail that I won’t get into below. As in previous PIPA polls, however, the questions included a series of pro and con arguments and/or options that respondents were asked to assess. The kind of texture and context normally provided to respondents in PIPA surveys, in my view, tends to be much more helpful in teasing out the public’s views than most polling done on this and similar subjects.
As noted by PIPA, Americans are very pessimistic about the benefits of an Israeli strike. Asked how long such a strike might delay Iran’s capability for developing a nuclear weapons, only 15 percent said more than five years, down from 18% when the same question was asked in another PIPA survey taken in March. Twenty percent said an attack could delay Iran by 3-5 years, and another 20% said only 1-2 years, which was the same estimate made by the Iran Project. Twenty-two percent said an attack was more likely to accelerate Iran’s nuclear program, while 14 percent predicted it would have no effect — up five percentage points from last March.
Asked whether an Israeli attack would improve or worsen the U.S.’s military and strategic position in the Middle East, only eight percent of respondents said Washington’s position would be better, while 55 percent said it would be worse. Another 32 percent said Washington’s position would be about the same.
Asked what the U.S. position should be on an Israeli strike, respondents were given three choices and a series of arguments in favor of each. (You can read them in the topline. Twenty-nine percent said the Washington should discourage Israel from carrying out an attack. That was down from 34% who took that position in March. Twelve percent said Washington should encourage an attack; that was also down from last March when 14 percent took that position. Finally, 53 percent said Washington should take a neutral stance; that was up by seven points from earlier this year.
Asked what they thought Iran’s reaction would be to an Israeli attack, 70% of respondents said it was either “very” (28%) or “somewhat likely” (42%) that Iran would attack U.S. bases and forces in the region and draw the U.S. into war with Iran. Eighty-six percent said it was either “very” (59%) or “somewhat likely” (27%) that the price of oil would increase drastically.
The survey also found evidence of a rise in Islamophobia since 9/11, and even since just a year ago. Asked whether they believe “violent conflict” is inevitable “because Islamic religious and social traditions are intolerant and fundamentally incompatible with Western culture, 42% of respondents said that was closer to their view than the statement, “Though there are some fanatics in the Islamic world, most people there have needs and wants like those people everywhere, so it is possible for us to find common ground.” A 53% majority agreed with the latter option over the former. But the comparable figures for the same options were 37% and 59%, respectively, in an August 2011 poll, and 26% and 68% in November 2001, two months after 9/11. In other words, the percentage of people who believe that conflict with the Islamic world is inevitable has risen by more than 50% over the past 11 years.