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ANALYSIS

Poll: Most Americans worry about war with N. Korea, but lack confidence in Trump to handle issue

By EMILY GUSKIN | The Washington Post | Published: July 18, 2017

Nearly three-quarters of Americans are concerned the United States could get involved in a full-scale war with North Korea, even as a majority lacks trust in President Trump to handle the situation, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

A new high of 66 percent say North Korea poses a "serious threat" to the United States, up from 54 percent in a 2005 Post-ABC poll and 55 percent in 2003, with concern spanning partisan and ideological lines.

The poll was conducted shortly after North Korea launched its farthest-reaching missile test to date in July with a range experts say could reach Alaska. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the missile test was a new escalation of the threat posed to the United States and the world, and that Washington would bring North Korea's action before the U.N. Security Council.

The Post-ABC poll finds lagging confidence in Trump to handle the situation, with 36 percent saying they trust Trump at least "a good amount" to deal with the issue, while 63 percent have "just some" or less confidence. Four in 10 say they do not trust Trump "at all" on the issue, nearly twice the number who express "a great deal" of confidence.

As with approval of Trump in general, there is a large partisan divide in the public's faith in Trump on this issue. An 81 percent majority of Republicans trust Trump at least a good amount to handle North Korea, while only 11 percent of Democrats say the same. Independents are closer to Democrats, with 31 percent trusting Trump a good amount or more while 66 percent trust him just some or not at all.

Ideological differences are also sharp but unbalanced. While 86 percent of liberals trust Trump just some or not at all to deal with North Korea, a smaller 66 percent majority of conservatives express faith in his leadership.

There are also political divisions in concerns about a full-scale war breaking out with North Korea. Overall, 74 percent of Americans say they are very or somewhat concerned about this prospect, including 39 percent who are "very concerned" while 35 percent are "somewhat concerned."

Democrats are about twice as likely as Republicans say they are "very concerned" about the United States getting involved in a full-scale war, 53 percent vs. 27 percent, with 36 percent of independents expressing significant concern.

Despite differing worries about a full-scale war, Democrats and Republicans see eye-to-eye when it comes to the threat North Korea poses: Two-thirds of Democrats along with 7 in 10 Republicans say that North Korea is a serious threat, and 65 percent of independents agree, all at least slightly higher than in 2005.

The poll finds concern that the United States will get involved in a war with North Korea peaks among African Americans, 63 percent of whom are "very" concerned, compared with 49 percent of Hispanics and 33 percent of whites. There is also a large gender gap, with 51 percent of women saying they are "very concerned" about the possibility compared with 27 percent of men.

Women have also become sharply more wary of the threat posed by North Korea than in the past. Fully 73 percent of women say North Korea is a serious threat, up 23 points from 2005, when 50 percent of women said the same. Among men, just under 6 in 10 at both time points have said North Korea is a serious threat.

The Post-ABC poll also finds an age gap in fears of North Korea, with 77 percent of Americans ages 40 and older saying the country poses a serious threat compared with 49 percent of people younger than 40. The younger group has not changed in their concern since 2005, while concerns among those over age 40 have grown by 19 percentage points.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted July 10-13 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults reached on cellular and landline phones. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The Washington Post's Scott Clement contributed to this report.
 

The United States and South Korea conducted a joint military exercise Wednesday in response to North Korea’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
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