Can You Locate Iran? Few Voters Can.

A 47% plurality support the airstrike that killed Soleimani

Morning Consult Illustration by Vladimir Gorshkov
January 8, 2020 at 12:01 am ET
  • 28% of registered voters could point out Iran on a zoomed-in map of the region.

  • 49% said they heard “a lot” about the death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

  • 69% said the strike makes war with Iran more likely, and 50% said it makes the U.S. less safe.

As tensions between the United States and Iran rise in the aftermath of the American drone strike that killed the country’s most powerful commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a new Morning Consult/Politico survey finds fewer than 3 in 10 registered voters can identify the Islamic republic on an unlabeled map.

Twenty-eight percent of registered voters were able to accurately label Iran on a map of the Middle East region, according to new Morning Consult/Politico polling conducted Jan. 4-5, before the Iranian military fired missiles at two bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops. Twenty-three percent could identify the country on a larger, also unlabeled, global map. Eight percent of voters thought Iran was Iraq on the smaller map.

The polling experiment sheds light on voters’ geographical unfamiliarity with foreign countries, even those with which the United States has been engaged in sustained conflict. Some respondents fared better than others, however.

Men were about twice as likely as women to be able to identify Iran on both maps, roughly reflecting what a 2017 Morning Consult experiment involving North Korea found. Wealthier and more educated voters were also more likely to get it right, while political party and age were not powerful factors.

News of Soleimani’s death — which 49 percent of voters reported hearing “a lot” about —  brought new attention to U.S. policy in the Middle East, with high-profile Democrats questioning whether there was a strategy behind the attack at Baghdad International Airport ordered by President Donald Trump. 

Voters were more likely to support (47 percent) the airstrike that killed Soleimani than oppose it (40 percent). Attitudes on Trump’s call fell neatly along partisan lines: 70 percent of Democrats disapproved of the strike while 85 percent of Republicans approved of it, including 61 percent of Republicans who strongly approved.

Notably, there were no statistical differences in support for the strike — or on a host of broader questions about its potential impacts — between those who could identify Iran on a map and those who could not. The survey of 1,995 registered voters has a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

While a lion’s share of voters backed the operation, public opinion on its possible effects ebbed more negative: 69 percent said they thought the strike on Soleimani made war with Iran more likely, and half said they thought it made the United States less safe.

So far, the attack has not garnered a so-called “rally ’round the flag” effect, which can temporarily buoy perceptions of a president’s job performance, with Trump’s approval rating unchanged throughout early January 2020, per Morning Consult Political Intelligence data.

A previous version of the demographics chart featured a disproportional bar for male responses.

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