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Americans Have Negative Views Of Iran

As Iranians head to the polls to elect their next president, overall views of Iran here in the United States remain overwhelmingly negative. In spite of these unfavorable opinions, a majority of Americans think the U.S. should pursue diplomatic relations with Iran.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is facing three challengers in his bid for re-election. While many think the election may come down to domestic issues in Iran, particularly the economy, Iran's relationship with the United States will likely play a key role.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll conducted in early April asked Americans their views of a number of foreign countries, and Iran received the most negative opinions of any country -- 87 percent said they view Iran unfavorably. That figure included 47 percent who held a "very" unfavorable opinion of the country.

Significant majorities have held negative perceptions of Iran since CNN started asking about the country in 1989. That year, 89 percent of Americans held an unfavorable view of Iran – the highest ever in that poll.

Still, there is evidence that Americans are willing to go down the diplomatic road with Iran. According to a CBS News/New York Times Poll released in April, 53 percent of Americans favored the U.S. establishing diplomatic relations with Iran even while that country has a nuclear program; 37 percent were opposed to such relations.

Views on diplomatic relations are highly partisan. Two-thirds of Democrats think the U.S. should establish diplomatic ties, compared to only 36 percent of Republicans who think so. Independents are more divided.

Moreover, there is little desire among the public to engage Iran militarily. A February CBS News/New York Times Poll found that just 13 percent of Americans expressed the view that Iran is a threat to the U.S. that requires military action now. Most – 58 percent - said Iran is a threat that could be contained through diplomacy. In recent years, Americans have consistently favored diplomacy with Iran over military action. On this matter Democrats (69 percent) and Republicans (50 percent) agree that Iran can be contained through diplomatic means.

Even though Americans are supportive of diplomatic efforts with Iran at this point, they are not without concerns. Fifty-four percent are "very concerned" about Iran's nuclear capabilities, according to a recent Gallup Poll.

Whether a new Iranian president could change Americans' perceptions of Iran – or what impact Ahmadinejad's re-election would have on the U.S. – remains to be seen.

Jennifer De Pinto is manager of election and survey information for CBS News. Poll Positions is weekly Hotsheet feature on polling trends from the CBS News Survey and Polling Unit. Click here for more posts from the series.
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