Poll: 37% of Americans see North Korea as an 'immediate threat'

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Story highlights

  • Concern about the situation in Syria has risen sharply since 2013
  • 37% say North Korea is an "immediate threat" to the US
  • About 6 in 10 say improper contact between Russians, Trump campaign a major problem

Washington (CNN)About four in 10 Americans say North Korea is an immediate threat to the US in the wake of the nation's recently stepped-up attempts to posture itself as a military threat to the US and others, according to a new CNN/ORC poll.

In the poll released Thursday, about 37% of respondents consider North Korea an immediate threat to the security of the US. The new CNN/ORC poll was released in the same week that President Donald Trump summoned the full Senate to the White House for a briefing on the North Korean threat.
Trump told Reuters on Thursday that although he would prefer a diplomatic solution to the threat of nuclear proliferation in North Korea, he believes "there is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely."
    North Korea, Syria and Russia have all been front and center during Trump's first 100 days in office.
    Other key findings of the poll show that 51% say they are "very concerned" about the situation in Syria, weeks after Trump took military action in the nation, launching missile strikes in response to the government's use of chemical weapons. And 57% see Russia as unfriendly or an enemy, as investigations into interactions between Trump campaign associates and the Russian government have continued to swirl.
    More on where Americans stand on foreign policy issues as the Trump administration's 100-day mark approaches:

    North Korea

    The 37% who consider North Korea an immediate threat now is slightly below the 41% who said so in 2013, around the time the isolated nation announced plans to re-start a nuclear reactor capable of producing plutonium. But this view is marked by a rare partisan agreement: 39% of Republicans, 37% of independents and 36% of Democrats feel that way, despite a roughly 20-point gap between Democrats and Republicans in 2013. Most Americans (67%) say they support using military troops to help defend South Korea should the North attack -- that's up 6 points from 2013 and is also a view shared by majorities across party lines.
    Partisan divides on North Korea emerge, however, when Americans are asked about the recent incident in which both the US Navy and Trump said that an aircraft carrier was on its way to waters off the Korean peninsula, despite that ship heading in the opposite direction, not scheduled to arrive for weeks after its destination was announced. Overall, 42% say that incident harmed US credibility, while 56% say it did not. Democrats are far more apt to see it as damaging, 66% said so, compared with 42% of independents and just 15% of Republicans.

    Syria

    American concerns about the situation in Syria have spiked dramatically in the last few years, with 51% now saying they are "very concerned" about the situation there, up from 36% who said so in May 2013. A 45% plurality say the main US goal there ought to be to support efforts to defeat ISIS, while 33% say the country's top priority should be to support humanitarian aid efforts. Just 7% say supporting the rebels attempting to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad should be the primary US mission.
    Nearly all of the increase in concern about the situation in Syria comes among Democrats (up 19 points to 55%) and independents (up 22 points, also to 55%), while the share of Republicans who say they are "very concerned" has held steady at 42%. There's a partisan divide on what the US should be attempting to accomplish there as well. Among Republicans, a clear majority say defeating ISIS ought to be the top goal, while Democrats and independents are more closely divided between defeating ISIS and supporting efforts to distribute humanitarian aid.

    Russia

    Most Americans say they see Russia as unfriendly or an enemy (57%), similar to the share of voters who said so last summer as the country's possible involvement in the hacking of emails from the Democratic National Committee came to light. But that's down dramatically from 2014, when 77% of Americans said they considered Russia to be unfriendly or worse, with the sharpest change coming among Republicans. In May 2014, 74% of Democrats and 82% of Republicans considered Russia unfriendly. Now, those figures stand at a similar 73% among Democrats and just 41% among Republicans.
    At the same time, opinions about Russian involvement in the US election appear to be holding steady, with 62% saying it would be a crisis or major problem for the US should it prove true that Russia attempted to influence the outcome of the US presidential election. That's about the same as in January, when 65% said so. And if it proved true that Trump campaign associates had improper contact with Russian operatives, 58% say that would be a major problem or crisis.
    Just under half, 46%, say it's extremely or very likely true that Russia did attempt to influence the US election, a figure that's also held relatively steady since January. The top end of that scale, however, has declined some since March: 32% called it extremely likely to be true then, that now stands at 27%. A similar share, 45%, say it's extremely or very likely that Trump campaign associates had improper contact with Russian operatives.
    Sharp partisan divides underlie views on the likelihood and severity of each of these scenarios, with Democrats far more likely to consider each a crisis or major problem and to see each scenario as very likely.