Trump’s foreign crisis: North Korean war of words

August 17, 2017, 5:30 PM GMT+0

In the case of a North Korean attack, most Americans support a conventional military response and oppose a nuclear reaction from the President

The war of words with North Korea had many Americans on edge last weekend. A growing number in the Economist/YouGov Poll fear conflict with this country that most regard as an enemy – and for some, that means nuclear war. By two to one, Americans worry that North Korea might attack the United States or its allies.

The perceived meaning of the words being exchanged depends on who is speaking. Americans are divided on whether North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un means what he is saying in his threats or is just talking tough, but they believe President Trump means what he says.

And the President’s words suggest war. By nearly two to one, Americans say the President’s claims of raining down “fire and fury” if North Korea attacks means using nuclear weapons. Those who believe this are even more concerned about war and more likely to say the President’s statements and tweets have been inappropriate.

Few would use nuclear weapons, even in response to a North Korean attack. And while few favor a first strike of any kind by the United States most support a military response if North Korea acts first. Republicans are more willing to accept a nuclear response, though only 23% of Republicans support a nuclear first strike.

Americans would much rather see negotiations. More than two in three – Republicans as well as Democrats -- would support direct negotiations aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear program.

The public’s unease is growing. More than ever before say that it is likely that President Trump will get the country into a war. That percentage jumped 11 points in just the last week. Nearly half of Republicans agree – doubling in the last week – their highest percentage ever.

Perhaps because of this increased concern, Americans do not approve of the way the President is handling North Korea. 38% approve, 47% disapprove. As recently as early July, more approved than disapproved.

There is also a perception that the President speaks impulsively, without considering the implications. By nearly four to one, Americans don’t think Mr. Trump thinks before he speaks. By nearly three to one, Americans find his use of Twitter overall inappropriate. And by 49% to 29%, they describe his comments and his use of Twitter on North Korea inappropriate.

Few Republicans take issue with the President’s comments on North Korea, but 62% of Republicans believe the President does not think before commenting. Republicans are divided about his tweeting in general and about whether the President mostly follows guidance from his advisers. By more than three to one, the public overall thinks he does not.

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