Pay No Attention to Iran Nuclear Deal Polling

Iranian Reaction to Nuclear DealGreg Sargent tried to get to the bottom of an important political question, What Does the American Public Really Think of the Iran Deal? He took on two recent polls. One, by Quinnipiac, found that by a 57%-28% margin, Americans disagree with the Iran nuclear deal. But an NBC News poll came out the same day that found that by 35%-33% margin, Americans agree with the deal. Is one poll an outlier? Not really. As Sargent pointed out, in the NBC News poll, respondents were allowed a third choice: “don’t know enough.” Another 32% chose that option.

This goes along with an article that Zack Beauchamp wrote that I discussed last week, Public Opinion and the Iranian Nuclear Deal. In that case, the difference was priming. If respondents were give a little information about what the deal was, they were much more likely to support it. Conservatives have cried foul in both cases. They claim that Americans must be polled in their natural state of ignorance and must not be allowed to admit that they do not know enough.

I think that’s hooey. Polls are supposed to tell us something. Snapshots are all fine. But when one-third of the population is fine with admitting they don’t know enough to form an opinion, it tells us that it isn’t an issue that they care much about. Are we supposed to base our policy about what Americans think regarding a subject on which they will only give an opinion if forced? Clearly, the Iran deal is not going to be an issue in the presidential race for a third of the people. And I doubt it will an important issue for the other two-thirds.

No Nukes for IranLet’s face it: any deal with “Iran” in the title is going to sound bad to Americans. After the deal came out, my father told me that he did not like it. After a heavy sigh, I asked him why. He said, “I just don’t trust those people.” I immediately thought that American media had been completely successful in their propaganda campaign. My father had fully absorbed the idea that the Iranians were some kind of nefarious “other.” So I pointed out that we had made deals with the Soviet Union when we didn’t trust them. And that what is currently said about Iran — “They aren’t rational!” — was said about the Soviet Union.

The big argument against the Iran deal is based on a flat out lie. It took almost two years of intensive negotiations to make this deal. What do opponents think? That everyone was just enjoying the expense account? The P5+1 just came in and gave Iran everything it wanted and then they spent the rest of the time sipping drinks by the pool? The deal itself is actually rather clever, with a mechanism for automatically reinstating the sanctions. All any of the involved countries has to do is accuse Iran. Personally, I find it hard to believe that Iran accepted that. It shows an amazing amount of trust in the other countries.

I think Sargent sums up what is really going on regarding public opinion:

I think the most reasonable takeaway from the totality of the polling is that a very large percentage of Americans doesn’t know much about the Iran deal. Thus, in the polls that don’t describe it and only offer a binary choice, the answers reflect dislike of Iran. By contrast, the polls that hint at the possibility of actual success in limiting Iran’s nuclear program — and only offer a binary choice — register more public support. In the first batch, people are saying, “we distrust Iran.” In the second batch, people are choosing “the thing that seems to make a nuclear Iran less likely.”

And the poll (NBC) that describes the deal in somewhat neutral terms but also allows people to admit to not knowing enough about it get a breakdown roughly in thirds — largely along partisan lines.

I believe in democracy. But this is not democracy. Clearly, democracy is more than voting. But even just looking at voting, there is a lead up to the vote. People hear from both sides. And in this case, I believe the pro-deal side has a much more compelling argument. But there is also a question of why we have a republican and not a straight democracy. And that is because of issues like this. I know infinitely more about the Iran deal than most Americans. But I haven’t read it. I’m no expert. To a large extent, my support for it is based on broader issues: the fact that war mongers always claim that the enemy can’t be trusted; that we have a long history of these kinds of deals working out; and so on. But I think this deal deserves to be tried. And in a decade, no one will know what the big deal was.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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