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Americans are afraid of war with North Korea — and of how Trump could handle it

New polls show Americans are divided on how to handle the North Korea threat.

CodePink Activists Stage A 24-Hour Vigil Calling For Peace Talks With North Korea Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Republicans and Democrats are united in their anxiety about North Korea and its nuclear threats — but divide sharply on whether to take steps that could escalate to war.

Alarm about North Korea has been steadily growing in the past six months, but it took on a new urgency this week, as President Donald Trump ratcheted up his rhetoric and Kim Jong Un promised to strike the tiny US territory of Guam.

New polls show a majority of Americans are afraid the US is about to wade into a war with North Korea, but are split on whether America should take military action in the face of increased threats from Pyongyang. At the same time, some of the public’s anxiety is about Trump and his off the cuff handling of the situation. Trump’s approval rating has dipped to historic lows, and Republicans and Democrats disagree sharply on whether they think the president is capable of dealing with North Korea.

Earlier this week, CNN and CBS released polls they conducted from August 3 to 6 showing a majority of Americans are anxious about North Korea. Two-thirds of people polled by CNN said the regime poses a serious threat to the United States, the highest percentage of people with that answer since 2000, according to the network.

Those numbers reflect a quickly escalating situation; in the past month, North Korea has successfully completed an intercontinental ballistic missile test that could reach the mainland United States, and American intelligence officials say the country is nearing its goal of being able to fit a nuclear weapon on one of those long-range missiles.

And Trump hasn’t exactly been doing a lot to quell those fears. On Tuesday, Trump appeared to threaten nuclear war, vowing to respond to North Korean threats with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Two days later, the president doubled down, saying of his remarks, “maybe it wasn’t tough enough.” He followed that up with a Friday tweet that the US military solutions were “locked and loaded should North Korea act unwisely.”

As a result, the possibility of war is on a lot of people’s minds.

A new poll from Public Policy Polling released by Axios on Friday morning shows 82 percent of Americans say they are afraid of nuclear war with North Korea. Another poll released by Rasmussen Report on Friday showed 63 percent of voters polled believe the US is now likely to take nuclear action against Kim Jong Un.

Meanwhile, the CBS poll conducted last week revealed 72 percent of Americans were already feeling uneasy about a possible conflict, while another 26 percent said they were confident things would be resolved.

However, the majority of those polled (60 percent), were optimistic the threat from North Korea could still be contained, with another 29 percent saying they believed it required immediate military action. It’s worth noting the poll was conducted before President Trump’s “fire and fury” comments.

Before this week’s rapidly escalating war of words between Trump and Kim Jong Un, the percentage of Americans in favor of taking military action on North Korea was creeping up slightly. But sharp divides remain.

The CNN poll, also conducted last week, showed Americans were divided on how to deal with North Korea, with 50 percent of those polled saying they favored military action, and 43 percent saying they opposed it.

Another poll conducted by the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs earlier this month found something similar, with a slim majority of respondents saying they supported military intervention if North Korea attacked South Korea.

The Chicago Council poll is the first time that more than half of Americans voiced support for sending in troops to help South Korea in the event of an attack. However, the same poll found Americans were still reticent to get involved in an armed conflict with North Korea and more likely to support increased sanctions instead.

Americans have been worried about North Korea and its threats of nuclear war for years, but used to see the rogue nation as being on par with other threats like a nuclear-armed Iran and terrorism.

In 2013, a Gallup poll showed that 83 percent of Americans believed North Korea developing nuclear weapons was a critical threat to the US (exactly on par with concern with Iran’s growing nuclear program).

But with Iran agreeing to suspend its nuclear program in exchange for eased US sanctions and North Korea aggressively building up its nuclear arsenal, Americans have become much more fearful of the Korean situation.

About 75 percent of Americans polled by the Chicago Council said North Korea is one of the top threats facing the United States, a noticeable spike from 60 percent last year.

Amidst the escalation, Americans still don’t have a lot of confidence in their commander in chief.

Just 35 percent of respondents to the CBS poll said they were confident in Trump’s ability to handle the North Korea threat, while 61 percent said they were uneasy. Confidence in Trump’s ability fell largely along party lines, with 76 percent of Republicans saying they were confident, and 31 percent of independents and just 10 percent of Democrats agreeing with them.

Many more people said they were uneasy about Trump, including 87 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of independents, and 22 percent of Republicans.

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