What do Americans think about outcome of Singapore Summit? The jury's still out


People walk past TV screens showing the meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un in Times Square, New York City, on June 11, 2018.
People walk past TV screens showing the meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un in Times Square, New York City, on June 11, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - In the aftermath of his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, US President Donald Trump declared that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat.

Americans have a more measured view, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. But their impressions of what happened in Singapore are nonetheless more positive than pre-summit attitudes earlier in the spring.

 

The president and the North Korean dictator signed a statement that commits to the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, which is the goal of the United States in negotiations that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week he hopes will be concluded before the end of Mr Trump's first term in the White House.

The summit agreement lacked specificity in terms of that timetable or more critically the outline of the verification program North Korea is prepared to accept. Nor does the document speak to what could be gaps in how each side defines complete denuclearisation.

Still, the document and the optics were enough for Mr Trump to put his own stamp of interpretation on the history-making meeting, calling the summit a full success.

Americans, however, are not ready to agree, according to the Post-ABC poll.

A majority of 55 per cent say it is too early to tell whether the summit was a success for the United States and an almost identical majority (56 per cent) say it was too early to tell whether it was a success for North Korea.

 
 
 
 
 

About one in five (21 per cent) say it was a success for the United States, and nearly three in 10 (29 per cent) say it was a success for North Korea. And 16 per cent say it was not a success for the United States, and a mere 5 per cent say it was not a success for the North Koreans.

The net positive margin on what the summit means for North Korea extends across partisan lines.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted last Wednesday through Friday among a random national sample of 495 adults reached on landlines and mobile phones. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5.5 percentage points.

Mr Trump drew some criticism after the summit for appearing to make concessions without getting much in return. Among the concessions was a decision to halt joint military exercises with South Korea, long a staple of the relationship between the two countries.

Mr Trump also used language often employed by North Korea to describe those exercises, calling them "provocative" and "war games".

Beyond that, because this was the first meeting between a sitting president and the leader of North Korea, the summit was seen as a public relations coup for Mr Kim, who was elevated onto an international stage and who, despite having a brutal human rights record at home, was treated to smiles and words of praise by Mr Trump during the summit and afterwards.

The survey found that the American public gives Mr Trump the benefit of the doubt, narrowly, on how to interpret the give-and-take of the summit.

Just over four in 10 (41 per cent) say Mr Trump made reasonable compromises at the summit, while about a third (34 per cent) say he gave away too much to the North Korean leader. The other 25 per cent offered no judgement about the bargaining that took place.

Partisan leanings coloured these perceptions. Seven in 10 Republicans say the president made reasonable compromises compared with 11 per cent who say he gave away too much. In contrast, almost half of all Democrats (49 per cent) say he gave away too much, compared with 17 per cent who say he made reasonable compromises. Independents are evenly split, 39 per cent to 39 per cent, on the question.

In the early months of Mr Trump's presidency, North Korea's missile tests and sabre-rattling rhetoric from the president - he warned that Mr Kim's regime would be subjected to "fire and fury" if it used nuclear weapons - heightened tensions dramatically.

In September, a Post-ABC poll showed a record high 70 per cent said that North Korea posed a serious threat, with majorities doubting Mr Kim and Mr Trump would act responsibly. Notwithstanding Mr Trump's post-summit assurances that the threat is gone, the public is taking a wait-and-see approach to the future.

The new poll finds about four in 10 (42 per cent) say the summit makes the long-term possibility of war with North Korea less likely, while 39 per cent say it makes no difference. A modest 11 per cent say they think it makes the long-term chances of war more likely.

Once again, Republicans express far more optimism about this than do Democrats or independents, with about two-thirds of those who identify with the GOP saying they think the chances of war have been diminished.

The summit did result in a shift in attitudes on the question of whether North Korea will ever give up its nuclear weapons. In April, 30 per cent of Americans said it was likely that there would be an agreement leading to that outcome, while 67 per cent said it was unlikely. In the new Post-ABC survey, 41 per cent now say they think it is likely as a result of the summit, while 53 per cent say it is unlikely.

The sceptics about North Korea's eventual willingness to give up its nuclear programme have softened somewhat in their view of what could happen. Of the 53 per cent who say it is unlikely that Mr Kim's regime will give up those weapons, 27 per cent say it is "somewhat" unlikely - about the same as earlier. But the number of those who say it is "very" unlikely has dropped from 42 per cent in April to 25 per cent today.

Mr Scott Clement, The Post's polling director, noted that the overall rise in optimism is "almost entirely attributable to Republicans".

Slightly more than two in three Republicans (68 per cent) now say it is likely that North Korea will dismantle its nuclear programme completely, an increase of 29 percentage points since April. Independents have changed little since April, with 34 per cent saying today they think it is likely, while Democrats have barely budged from 21 per cent in April to 26 per cent today, although Democrats have become far less apt to say disarmament is "very unlikely".

On this question, the results showed a sharp difference between men and women. A slight majority of men (51 per cent) say they believe the summit made it likely North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons, compared with just a third (32 per cent) of women. The percentage of men who express an optimistic view has risen by 20 points since April. Among women, the increase in that period is three points, which is within the margin of error.

A gender gap appeared on other questions as well. On the issue of whether the president made reasonable compromises or gave away too much, men and women took opposing positions. Among men, 55 per cent say Mr Trump made reasonable compromises, while 28 per cent say he gave away too much. Women were more pessimistic, with 27 per cent saying the compromises were reasonable and 40 per cent saying he gave too much to Mr Kim.

By 50-33 per cent, men are more apt than women to say the summit made the long-term chances of war with North Korea less likely. Twice as many men as women (28 per cent vs 14 per cent) judged the summit a success for the United States, and more men than women say the same for North Korea. Overall, small majorities of men and women agreed that it is too early to judge the outcome.

Mr Trump's characterisation of events can have some impact on shaping perceptions, but the survey indicates that many Americans will reserve judgement to await the results of the coming negotiations.