Americans are far less likely to perceive a direct threat to the U.S. While 28 percent judge a North Korean attack on the U.S. as likely, 58 percent of those surveyed say that the country will not attack America.

"Average Americans have no real way of judging the actual probability of a North Korean attack on the South or on the U.S., but based on the knowledge they do have, the public is split down the middle on whether an attack on South Korea is likely. Fewer think that an attack on the U.S. is likely," Gallup's Frank Newport said in a statement. "Still, a majority of Americans, particularly those who are following the news of this situation on the Korean peninsula closely, say the U.S. should come to the aid of South Korea if that country is attacked by the North — just as the U.S. did in 1950."

Despite a split on the likelihood of attack, around seven in 10 Americans say they are "very" or "somewhat closely" following the news about North Korea. According to Gallup, that outpaces the 61 percent average for major news stories over the past several decades. 

But the uncertainty about what North Korea might do persists even among those closely following the story, underscoring the uncertainty cultivated by Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

On Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney urged North Korea's leadership to "choose the path of peace" after reports on Thursday that Pyongyang had ordered missiles to its east coast.

"We continue to closely monitor the situation on the peninsula," Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One. "Threats and provocative actions will not bring the DPRK the security, international respect, and economic development that it seeks. We continue to urge the North Korean leadership to heed President Obama's call to choose the path of peace and come into compliance with its international obligations."