Despite Questions Raised in Campaign, Americans Remain Supportive of Troops in South Korea


By Juni Kim

Although not a focal point of the ongoing presidential campaigns, U.S. policy regarding the Korean peninsula has come up from time to time with both major party candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. With scant information on American public opinion regarding Korea and its importance, a recent survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs provides valuable insights into public views. Part of the survey, which was conducted from June 10 to June 27 among 2,061 adults, asked Americans about their thoughts on the U.S. military in South Korea, the North Korean threat, and South Korea’s influence in the world.

Multiples times earlier in the election campaign, the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump questioned the U.S. military commitment to South Korea and other U.S. allies. Despite Mr. Trump’s comments that he would be willing to withdraw U.S. troops from the peninsula, the survey shows that 70 percent of Americans support a long-term U.S. military presence in South Korea, while 72 percent of Trump supporters also favor U.S. military bases in South Korea.

American support for U.S. bases in South Korea also ranked higher than overall support for a U.S. military presence in Australia (46 percent), Germany (61 percent), and Japan (60 percent), which were the three other countries asked about in the survey. Trump supporters are higher than the overall average for all four countries in support of long-term U.S. military bases abroad.

Chicago Council Numbers

The higher support for U.S. troops in South Korea compared to the other  countries asked about in the survey may be related to the perceived North Korean threat to the United States. Survey respondents were asked to list what they considered was a critical threat to American vital interests in the next 10 years, and North Korea made the top five list for Democrats, Republicans, independents, and core Trump supporters. In particular, North Korea was the second most listed threat for Democrats at 64% behind international terrorism, which was the most listed threat for all surveyed groups. With most Americans viewing North Korea as a significant threat, the higher support for U.S. military bases in South Korea compared to other U.S. allies is unsurprising.

American opinions of South Korea’s global influence have remained relatively unchanged in recent years. When asked to rate South Korea’s influence on a 0 to 10 scale (with 0 meaning not at all influential and 10 meaning extremely influential), survey respondents rated South Korea 4.6. This rating is roughly in line with South Korea’s previous ratings of 4.7 (2014), 4.4 (2012), and 4.7 (2010) in previous iterations of the survey. South Korea’s rating may be a far cry from global powers like the United States (8.5) and China (7.1), but it is similar to the ratings of India (4.8) and Iran (4.5). Although not included in the survey, a comparison of South Korea’s ratings to regional neighbors like Japan and Taiwan or other middle power nations would have been interesting to see how American perceptions of these nations differ.

Juni Kim is the Program Manager and Executive Assistant at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Photo from UNC – CFC – USFK on flickr Creative Commons.

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The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.