About half of Americans (51%) say the U.S. should stay neutral if Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities to prevent it from developing a weapon. Nearly four-in-ten (39%) say the U.S. should support Israel, while just 5% say the U.S. should oppose military action.

The issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and what to do about them, are expected to be a major topic of discussion when President Obama meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House today.

There is a wide divide among Republicans on the issue of Iran. Fully 71% of conservative Republicans think the U.S. should support Israel’s military action if they attack Iran, compared with 43% of moderate and liberal Republicans. A majority of independents and Democrats (including both liberal and more moderate Democrats) think the U.S. should stay neutral.

While most Americans want the U.S. to stay neutral if Israel attacks Iran, the public supports tough measures — including the possible use of military force — to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Nearly six-in-ten (58%) say it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means taking military action. Just 30% say it is more important to avoid a military conflict with Iran, even if it means that country develops nuclear weapons. These opinions are little changed from October 2009.

Overall, there has been modest attention to the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program; 38% say they have heard a lot while 39% have heard a little and 23% have heard nothing at all. That is comparable to attention paid to Iran’s nuclear program last month and in October 2009. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.