Cyber Terrorism, North Korea and Iran Nuclear Weapons Top 'Critical Threats' to U.S.: Poll

Americans of all political persuasions consider cyber attacks the greatest national security threat, according to a new Gallup poll, though there remain deep partisan divisions on a host of other existential threats to the U.S.

Gallup polled 1,021 nationally-representative adults between February 3 and 18 via telephone interviews, with a 4 percent sampling error.

It found that cyber attacks topped a list of 11 national security concerns, with 82 percent of respondents citing it as a "critical threat" to American interests. The poll results come as President Joe Biden's administration mulls its response to Russia's large-scale cyber attack last year, which compromised a host of federal agencies and U.S. companies.

The majority of both Republicans (81 percent) and Democrats (82 percent) fear the potential impact of future cyber attacks. Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are all sources of concern for national defense officials, and all have shown ability and willingness to attack U.S. targets.

Other top "critical threats" according to respondents are North Korean nuclear weapons (77 percent), potential Iranian nuclear weapons (75 percent), international terrorism (72 percent), and the global spread of infectious diseases (72 percent).

Less, but still significantly, worrying threats among the majority of respondents were the economic power of China (63 percent consider it a "critical threat) and climate change (58 percent).

Gallup said the results were fairly similar to those of past years, though noted concern rising about China's economic power (up 17 points from 46 percent in 2019) and the spread of infectious diseases (up nine points from 63 percent in 2016).

But as with recent foreign policy polls, the latest Gallup research showed striking partisan disagreement on some of the key threats facing the U.S.

Remnants of former President Donald Trump's foreign policy positions are still visible in Republican sentiment. Gallup found that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to be worried about Iran's nuclear program (83 percent versus 68 percent), China's economic power (78 percent versus 52 percent), and illegal immigration (75 percent versus 20 percent).

On the other hand, Democrats are more concerned than their right-wing compatriots about future pandemics (82 percent versus 61 percent) and climate change (86 percent versus 27 percent).

The two sides are closely aligned on their concerns over North Korean nuclear weapons (77 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats), international terrorism (72 percent for both sides), and cyber terrorism (81 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats).

Republicans and Democrats also diverge on threats considered less critical, including conflict between China and Taiwan (36 percent of Republicans versus 23 percent of Democrats), conflicts between Israel and Palestine (35 percent of Republicans versus 30 percent of Democrats), and Russia's military strength (39 percent of Republicans versus 49 percent of Democrats).

Screen shows cyber attacks in China
This file photo taken on August 4, 2020 shows a member of the hacking group Red Hacker Alliance monitoring global cyberattacks at an office in Dongguan, China. NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images