A new survey shows 74% of the public support NHS nurses taking some form of industrial action over pay, provided it does not affect patient care.
The news comes as 200,000 Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members in England begin sending back ballot papers following the dispute over the 2.5% wage rise.
The YouGov poll of more than 2,300 adults in Britain also found the public overwhelmingly believe this year's pay award for nurses is unfair.
Some 82% of those questioned said the deal is unjust as nurses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will not have to accept the increase in stages.
Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the RCN, said: "Day in, day out, nurses are there for their patients - they will be heartened to know that they can count on the general public for support at this difficult time.
"I want to reassure everyone that this is not a course of action we take lightly and the safety of patients remains our number one concern.
"We hope the government will talk and work with us so industrial action can be avoided."
Dr Carter added: "Our members are delighted that nurses in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland will now receive their pay award in full, but nurses in England will still be left out in the cold because they continue to be offered a lower pay deal."
The indicative ballot will close on 6 August with the result expected to be announced the following week.
The RCN's ruling council will then decide whether or not to proceed to a formal ballot on industrial action in September, and what form any future industrial action might take.