Over Two In Three Regard North Korea As An Enemy - But Americans Divide To Believe Recent Threats

April 11, 2013, 2:00 PM GMT+0

(Week of 4/6/2013) Two in three Americans in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll regard North Korea as an enemy of the United States, and many would want U.S. military forces to assist South Korea is it were invaded by its northern neighbor. But many aren’t sure how to treat North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s recent threats: just about as many think they are real as think they are mostly for show. Older Americans, women and Republicans are more likely to regard the current rhetoric as real. Men, Democrats, younger adults and college graduates are more likely to classify the recent statements as simply a political stunt by the young North Korean leader.

But that doesn’t mean that Americans regard Kim as simply a nuisance. Nor does it mean that most Americans are ignoring his recent threats and actions. More than seven in ten are following news about the threats closely, with about a third following the news “very closely.”

In fact, just about half the public regards North Korea as a serious threat to the United States. Even more – 78% – call it a serious threat to its neighbor and longtime enemy, South Korea. Even more women and Republicans regard North Korea as a threat to the United States; 70% of those 65 and older, who have personal memories of the Korean conflict, say North Korea is a serious threat.

Most describe North Korea as an enemy of the United States: 68% say this about North Korea, in contrast to the 50% who regard Iran as an enemy, and the around one in four who would still say that about Iraq (23%) and Cuba (28%). In contrast, nearly half say South Korea is an ally of the U.S., nearly as many as call Israel an ally.

Two years ago, before Kim took over the North Korea government after his father’s death, 55% viewed North Korea as an enemy. Americans favor confronting North Korea when it comes to its development of long-range missiles. 45% support military action in that circumstance, 26% oppose it. Slim majorities of Republicans, conservatives and those 65 and older are in support of military action in reaction to North Korea's long range missile development, while people under age 45, the college educated and liberals are at least as likely to oppose military action as to support it. There is more support for action if North Korea attacks South Korea. By better than a three to one margin, Americans believe the U.S. should provide military forces to assist South Korea if it is attacked from the North.