Nearly three in four Americans still believe Iran must not be allowed to have nuclear weapons, and they're solidly behind President Obama as he presses for diplomatic sanctions against the country. They also recognize that under the current administration Iran has become bolder and a bigger threat than ever.
But confidence in the president's understanding of the gravity of the Iran situation splits on party lines. And with the country already committed to two wars, at least for now, Americans have mixed views on taking military action against Iran if sanctions fail.
Fully one-half, however, support Israel taking military action.
These are the key findings from the latest IBD/TIPP poll of 924 Americans completed this past Sunday. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Iran has been pursuing its nuclear ambition relentlessly, insisting its program is for peaceful purposes. But most world powers, including the U.S., are skeptical. The U.S. and its allies believe that Iran is refining uranium to develop nuclear weapons on the pretext of civilian use for medical treatment and power plants.
To celebrate Iran's "National Nuclear Day" last Friday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled a new centrifuge. Ali Akbar Salehi, a Ph.D. from MIT and the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, boasts that this "third generation" centrifuge is much faster than that of earlier generations.
The geopolitical consequences of Iran's acquiring nuclear weapons would be enormous. The country could potentially become a Mideast superpower and trigger an atomic arms race in the area that would threaten Israel and other U.S. allies.
Most Americans (72%) continue to say they do not want Iran to have nuclear weapons. This position has been steady over the last 12 months — 78% in March of last year, 79% in October and 80% this February.
But Americans are somewhat mixed in their view of the Obama administration on the issue. Nearly half (48%) believe Obama has a good understanding of the gravity of the Iran situation. But while Democrats (69%) and independents (49%) have confidence in the president, a majority of Republicans (57%) do not.
For now, the U.S. and its allies are pursuing diplomatic sanctions to compel Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. The president says he's not interested in waiting months for a sanctions regime to be in place. But to pursue sanctions that have some teeth, the U.S. needs the co-operation of both Russia and China in the United Nations.
Both these countries have pursued delicate diplomacy where they balance their support of sanctions with statements that counsel a cautious approach. Russia has economic interests in Iran and has significant investments in Iran's energy sector — it's selling equipment for Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant.
In an interview with ABC News broadcast Monday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he did not believe there would be an international consensus in favor of energy sanctions against Iran.
What happens if sanctions and diplomacy fail?
Americans' support of U.S. military action in the event that sanctions and diplomacy do not work has seesawed from 52%-37% last March to 46%-43% this month. Republicans are the most hawkish, supporting military action 61% to 27%. Both Democrats (39% to 50%) and independents (40% to 48%) are against military action.
Our polls have consistently shown more support for Israel taking the lead. This month, 50% are in favor of Israeli military action against Iran.
Mayur is president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which directs the IBD/TIPP poll that was the most accurate in the last two presidential elections.