NEW YORK – A new FOX News poll finds that a plurality of the public sees Al Qaeda (search) as a greater threat to their safety than Iran (search) and North Korea (search), even as a large majority believes Iran is trying to obtain nuclear weapon capabilities. In addition, the poll shows a slim majority with a positive view of President George W. Bush’s recent trip to win more support from Europeans — a goal Americans overwhelmingly agree is important.
More than 4 in 10 Americans think the Al Qaeda terrorist network poses the greatest threat to the safety of the United States today — almost twice as many as say North Korea and four times as many as say Iran. One in five believe all three pose an equal threat.
"Terrorism has consistently been the number one foreign policy concern since September 11," notes Opinion Dynamics Vice-President Lawrence Shiman. "If an issue such as potential nuclear weapons in Iran is not enough to divert the focus of the American public, it is unlikely that any new foreign policy issue not tied to terrorism will receive much public attention over the next few years."
And while Iran insists that its military is not involved in nuclear weapons activities, fully 75 percent of Americans believe that military use is the true reason Iran is interested in uranium enrichment. Fewer than 1 in 10 believe Iran is really using uranium for peaceful purposes, such as nuclear power generation.
So, if Al Qaeda is a greater threat than Iran, how is the United States doing at dismantling the terrorist network? About a third (32 percent) say the U.S. is doing a good job of going after Al Qaeda, 38 percent say fair and 24 percent say poor. Moreover, to win the war against terrorism almost all Americans think it is important (59 percent "very" and 25 percent "somewhat") to capture or kill Usama bin Laden.
Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on March 1-2.
President Bush’s Trip to Europe
By a 51 to 28 percent margin, the public thinks President Bush’s recent trip abroad achieved the goal of improving U.S. relations with European countries (20 percent are unsure). Over two-thirds of Republicans think the president’s trip helped, as do 40 percent of Democrats and 43 percent of independents.
Virtually all Americans think it is important that the United States mend fences with European countries (73 percent "very" and 20 percent "somewhat" important). Who should be more responsible for taking steps to improve the relationship? Over a third (37 percent) think the United States, 22 percent think it is up to the European countries and 35 percent think both sides are equally responsible for taking steps to improve the relationship.
Opinion splits evenly when Americans are asked if the world is generally heading in a better direction (41 percent) or worse direction (43 percent) with Bush as president.
Overall, a bare majority of Americans (52 percent) approve of the job George W. Bush is doing as president and 39 percent disapprove, which is about where his ratings have been since the beginning of the year. The president’s approval rating shows only a slight gender gap: men are four percentage points more likely than women to approve. On the political front, there is a huge partisan gap, as 89 percent of Republicans approve compared to 21 percent of Democrats.
Now that the public has seen Condoleezza Rice in action in her new role as secretary of state, the poll asked Americans to rate her job performance: 51 percent approve, 18 percent disapprove and 32 percent are unsure. For comparison, roughly three months ago 57 percent approved and 24 percent disapproved of the job Rice was doing as national security advisor and, upon his departure, former Secretary of State Colin Powell had a job approval rating of 77 percent (November 2004).
With the various scandals in the news regarding the United Nations, 32 percent of Americans approve and nearly half (46 percent) disapprove of the job it is doing.
Most Americans — 85 percent — say they are following the debate on reforming Social Security either "very" or "somewhat" closely. Not surprisingly, almost everyone over age 55 is following the issue, with 64 percent following it very closely and another 26 percent somewhat closely. Among those under age 30, fully 80 percent are following the debate (34 percent very and 46 percent somewhat).
In addition, a large minority (41 percent) says since the current Social Security debate began they have taken steps to find out more about their retirement savings options, and almost a third (31 percent) have increased the amount they are putting toward their retirement.
Opinion is mixed on whether legislation reforming Social Security will be passed in the next two years; half of the public feels it is likely and 40 percent believe it is unlikely.
If legislation is passed, the public is divided on whether it should include personal savings accounts. Nearly half of Americans (47 percent) think it is a bad idea to allow people to invest Social Security contributions in personal or private accounts, while almost as many think it is a good idea (40 percent).
Two-thirds of those under age 30 think personal savings accounts are a good idea, as do 46 percent of those ages 30-45. A 56 percent majority of those over age 55 think personal accounts are a bad idea. "It is likely that many politicians will be paying close attention to these demographics as they consider how to proceed with the social security debate," comments Shiman.
Following the News
Iraq and Social Security top the list of items people are following in the news. Almost 6 in 10 Americans say they are following news about the situation in Iraq "very" closely, followed by the debate on Social Security reform. Over a quarter say they are following news of the pope’s health very closely — three times as many as say they are following the Michael Jackson child molestation trial. Here’s how the news stories rank: