By Jonathan Easley - 02/06/12 10:00 AM EST
Nearly half of likely voters think the United States should be willing to use military force to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, according to this week’s The Hill Poll.
Forty-nine percent said military force should be used, while 31 percent said it should not and 20 percent were not sure.
Sixty-two percent of likely voters said they were somewhat or very concerned about Iran making a terrorist strike on the United States, while 37 percent said they were not very concerned or not at all concerned about it.
But 52 percent said the U.S. military’s presence in Europe and Korea should either be reduced (42 percent) or eliminated (10 percent), while 36 percent said those forces should be retained and 5 percent said they should be increased.
Although the Iranians deny pursuing nuclear weapons, few outside of Tehran believe the claim, and how to prevent such a scenario has become a hot election-year issue.
Two Democratic lawmakers in January introduced legislation calling for further economic sanctions against Iran in hopes that crippling the country’s economy would cause Tehran to give in to U.S. demands, or push the people of Iran to demand regime change.
The proposed sanctions came shortly after the House passed a bill that would punish foreign financial institutions for engaging in transactions with Iran’s central bank.
In response, the Iranian government threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil passageway in the Persian Gulf — a move the United States said would be crossing a “red line” of provocation.
The Obama administration said it is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal,” the president said in his State of the Union address. “But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.”
But some of the Republican presidential candidates have called the president soft on Iran, saying his willingness to negotiate shows weakness, and warning that the Iranians will not honor any agreements that diplomacy might produce.
“If we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon,” said GOP front-runner Mitt Romney. “And if we elect Mitt Romney they will not have a nuclear weapon.”
Still, Rick Santorum is the only candidate so far to say outright that he would take out Iranian nuclear sites to prevent the country from obtaining a nuclear bomb.
Ron Paul, whose libertarian platform is staunchly opposed to U.S. intervention in foreign affairs, is the only GOP candidate who is against any type of action against Iran, and while those surveyed don’t agree with him on Iran specifically, the fact that voters would prefer to reduce the U.S. presence overseas offers some evidence his isolationist message is resonating more generally.
There’s a partisan split in how voters view overseas bases, with 51 percent of Republicans saying the United States should retain its presence in Europe and Korea. Fifty percent of Democrats and independents alike said it should be reduced.
When it comes to cutting the defense budget, that partisan split reappears, with 69 percent of Republicans opposing cuts and 61 percent of Democrats favoring cuts. Independents are more closely split, with 46 percent opposing cuts and 38 percent favoring them.
When Congress failed to reach an agreement on deficit reduction last November, the stalemate triggered $1.2 trillion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts, nearly half of which were to come from the Pentagon.
Last week, however, Senate Republicans introduced a bill that would undo the first year of military spending cuts by extending the federal employee pay freeze.
The findings were based on a nationwide survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted Feb. 2 by Pulse Opinion Research, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.