Between alleged interference in U.S. elections by Russia, recent nuclear posturing by North Korea, and chemical weapon atrocities in Syria – it’s hard to keep track of which country is supposed to be the bona fide number one “enemy” of the United States.
While we can’t tell you exactly what people are thinking in this moment, we do have access to about 15 years worth of polls on the subject. The data ends up painting an interesting backdrop for America’s foreign policy decisions over the same timeframe, as well as the narratives being pushed by major media outlets.
Congrats, Dear Leader
Today’s first map visualizes the most recent data from a YouGov survey between January 28 and February 1, 2017, which was taken just before the most recent string of geopolitical turmoil.
During the survey window, more Americans viewed North Korea as an enemy than any other country, with the Hermit Kingdom being ranked as an “enemy” by 57% of respondents. Of course, new tensions have surfaced since then, as North Korea continues to defy U.S. pressure with further missile tests under Kim Jong-Un. This probably hasn’t helped their case with American citizens.
As you might imagine, aside from North Korea, most of the countries that skew towards the top of the “enemy” spectrum are located in the Middle East and North Africa. Here’s a close-up of that region, with the numbers that specific countries poll at there:
Looking just at this geographic area, Iran stands out the most with 41% of Americans considering it to be an “enemy”. That places it right behind North Korea on the enemy list, at least as far as this most recent poll is concerned.
Following Iran in the rankings were Syria (32%), Iraq (29%), and Afghanistan (23%).
Changing Enemies Over Time
One thing is for sure: America’s biggest foe isn’t a constant. The identity of America’s arch-nemesis ebbs and flows as global events unfold, and the opinions of citizens are swayed.
The following animation shows the answer to a slightly different poll question, this time by Gallup, which was asked multiple years between 2001 and 2016. Specifically, Americans were asked (unprompted) to name the country that is their “greatest enemy”.
See how the rankings fluctuate over time, including Iraq’s precipitous drop after Saddam was ousted and the country turned out to not have WMDs:
Particularly, Iran had a good run between 2006-2012, when it was the top-ranked “enemy” in each year a poll was done.
At other times, North Korea (2005, 2016), Iraq (2001, 2005), Russia (2015), and China (2014) have all topped the list as well.