By roughly three-to-one (71%-23%), most Americans approve of Obama’s decision to sign an arms control treaty with Russia, reducing the number of nuclear weapons in both countries. A somewhat smaller majority (64%) also approves of Obama’s recent declaration that the U.S. will not use nuclear weapons against countries that do not possess them; 30% disapprove of this policy. Support is far lower for Obama’s decision to stop the development of any new nuclear weapons by the United States; on this decision as many approve (47%) as disapprove (47%).
While Democrats are the most supportive of Obama’s nuclear policy decisions, majorities of Republicans and independents also approve of both the arms treaty with Russia and the decision to not use nuclear weapons on non-nuclear countries. However, a there is sharp partisan disagreement over Obama’s decision to stop the development of any new nuclear weapons; Republicans disapprove of this decision by more than two-to-one (66% to 28%), while Democrats approve of it by only a slightly narrower margin (61% vs. 34%). Independents are divided with 48% saying they approve and 47% saying they disapprove.
College graduates are somewhat more supportive of all three nuclear policy decisions than are those with lower levels of education. And women (70% approve) are more likely than men (57% approve) to say they approve of Obama’s decision to not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries. Notably, those who have heard a lot about Obama’s recent nuclear policy decisions express about the same views on the three decisions tested as do those who have heard a little or nothing at all about them.
Is Obama Tough Enough?
Just under half (47%) of Americans say that Barack Obama is not tough enough in his approach to foreign policy and national security issues – unchanged from last November. Nearly as many (41%) say Obama’s approach to foreign issues is about right, while just 2% say he is too tough. There is an overwhelming partisan divide on this issue – 70% of Republicans say Obama is not tough enough, while 66% of Democrats believe Obama handles foreign policy and security issues about right. Just over half (52%) of independents say Obama isn’t tough enough, while 37% say he strikes the right balance.
Opinion of U.S. Mideast Policy
In the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians a plurality of Americans continue to sympathize more with Israel (49%) than with the Palestinians (16%); 12% say they sympathize with neither side, 4% with both. The public has long expressed more sympathy for Israel than for the Palestinians and the findings from the current survey are little changed from recent years.
As has consistently been the case, more Republicans (64%) than Democrats (44%) or independents (45%) say they sympathize with Israel. Republicans have been at least 10 points more sympathetic toward Israel than Democrats or independents in each Pew Research Center survey fielded over the past decade. And support for Israel is especially strong among conservative Republicans: by an overwhelming 70%-7% margin, conservative Republicans say they sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians.
About two-thirds (65%) of white evangelicals say they sympathize more with Israel, while just 9% sympathize more with the Palestinians. Nearly half of Catholics (48%) and black Protestants (47%) sympathize more with Israel, as do 39% of white mainline Protestants; comparable percentages of all three groups sympathize with the Palestinians (16% of Catholics, 18% of black Protestants and 16% of white mainline Protestants). The religiously unaffiliated are more divided in their views: 37% sympathize more with Israel, 26% with the Palestinians.
A 47% plurality says Obama is striking the right balance in dealing with the situation in the Middle East, while 21% say he is favoring the Palestinians too much and 7% say he is favoring Israel too much. These figures are largely unchanged from last November, though the percent saying Obama favors the Palestinians has increased from 16% to 21%.
Republicans are critical of Obama’s handling of the situation in the Middle East. Just 28% of Republicans say Obama is striking the right balance while 38% say he favors the Palestinians too much, and 6% say he favors Israel too much. Democrats are far more supportive, with 66% saying Obama strikes the right balance. Fewer than one-in-ten Democrats say he favors either the Palestinians (7%) or Israel (8%) too much. A plurality of independents (47%) say Obama is striking the right balance; among independents who think his approach is unbalanced more say he favors the Palestinians too much (21%) than say he favors Israel too much (7%).