- 82% say North Korean nuclear weapons are a critical threat
- Huge majorities also name cyberterrorism and international terrorism
- 40% or less see three other potential threats as critical
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Eighty-two percent of Americans say North Korea's development of nuclear weapons poses "a critical threat" to the United States' vital interests. A similar percentage (81%) think cyberterrorism poses a critical threat to the nation, putting these two at the top of a list of six possible threats.
International terrorism, which topped Gallup's lists of potential threats in five of six previous years, is something that 75% of Americans name as a critical threat this year. None of the three other issues in this year's list receives majority mentions from the public as a critical threat.
|Critical threat||Important, not critical||Not important|
|Development of nuclear weapons by North Korea||82||14||3|
|Cyberterrorism, the use of computers to cause disruption or fear in society||81||16||3|
|The economic power of China||40||45||14|
|Large numbers of immigrants entering the United States||39||31||29|
|The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians||36||48||14|
|GALLUP, FEB. 1-10, 2018|
The high level of concern about North Korea comes after months of heated rhetoric between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. However, widespread concern about North Korea's nuclear weapons preceded Trump's presidency, with virtually the same percentage of Americans in 2013 -- 83% -- calling them a critical threat as do now.
Though the overall percentage viewing North Korea's nuclear weapons as a critical threat has hardly changed in the past five years, the percentage who see North Korea as the greatest U.S. enemy has climbed, from 10% in 2012 to 51% in the current poll. The poll was conducted Feb. 1-10, before a flurry of recent diplomatic maneuvers involving the United States, North Korea and South Korea -- much of it during North Korea's participation in the Winter Olympics held last month in South Korea.
Americans Generally Less Concerned Than in Past About Potential Threats
Cyberterrorism, described in the poll as "the use of computers to cause disruption or fear in society," is the only one of the six potential threats in the poll seen as more of a threat now than when Gallup last asked about it. Eighty-one percent now see it as a critical threat, compared with 73% in 2016. U.S. intelligence officials have accused Russia of targeting the 2016 presidential election with cyberattacks, and Russian-backed operatives reportedly compromised state websites or voter registration databases in at least seven states during the election campaign.
Americans' levels of concern about four other potential threats were all at or below previous levels.
- The percentage of Americans calling international terrorism a critical threat dropped from 84% in 2015 to 79% in 2016, and then to 75% this year.
- Majorities of 52% in both 2013 and 2014 saw the economic power of China as a critical threat. It has dropped to 40% now.
- In 2004, the only time before this year that Gallup asked about "large numbers of immigrants entering the United States," half of the public (50%) viewed it as a critical threat. That number has fallen to 39%.
- Gallup asked in 2004 about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and 58% said it was a critical threat. In five subsequent polls conducted between 2010 and 2016, the percentages ranged between 44% and 47%; this year's reading of 36% represents a further decline.
Republicans More Likely to Describe Potential Threats as Critical
Partisanship affects how Americans view several of the potential threats, though there is virtually no difference between Democrats and Republicans (including those who lean to either party) on cyberterrorism. The biggest difference is found on the question of immigration: 65% of Republicans think large numbers of immigrants entering the United States represent a critical threat, compared with 16% of Democrats. Gallup also finds statistically significant differences between the party groups on international terrorism and the economic power of China, with Republicans more likely to see both as a critical threat.
|Development of nuclear weapons by North Korea||80||87|
|Cyberterrorism, the use of computers to cause disruption or fear in society||83||82|
|The economic power of China||34||47|
|Large numbers of immigrants entering the United States||16||65|
|The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians||33||39|
|GALLUP, FEB. 1-10, 2018|
On the question of North Korean nuclear weapons, there appears to be general agreement among the parties that it constitutes a critical threat -- the seven-percentage-point gap between Republicans (87%) and Democrats (80%) is not statistically meaningful. However, Gallup polling last fall showed a wide gap in attitudes about actions that might be taken as a result of the threat. Eighty-two percent of Republicans in a Sept. 6-10 poll said they would favor military action against North Korea if peaceful means failed to achieve the United States' goals, compared with 37% of Democrats.