Attitude Adjusting: New Polls on US Opinion of Iran Agreement

A few weeks ago we reported on American attitudes toward the interim agreement with Iran, but since then we have seen a few new surveys and thought it was time for an update. Especially given President Obama’s promise in his State of the Union address to veto a new sanctions bill “that threatens to derail these talks.”

Pew Survey

Polls conducted in November found that a majority of Americans supported the agreement. However, a December 3-8 Pew survey found that Americans were more likely to disapprove (43%) than approve (32%) of “the agreement between the United States and Iran on Iran’s nuclear program,” with 25 percent volunteering that they don’t know how they feel. Six in ten (62%) thought Iranian leaders are not serious about “addressing international concerns about their country’s nuclear enrichment,” similar to skepticism expressed in November polls.

Israel Project Survey – Initial Questions

Yesterday, The Daily Beast reported on a survey sponsored by the Israel Project, a pro-Israel non-profit organization (conducted January 21-23, 2014) on American views of current Iran policy. The highlights included results showing majorities of Americans support Congress moving forward with the new sanctions legislation and want Congress to approve a final deal before sanctions are lifted.

Upon closer look, the results from this survey show that a majority of Americans initially support the interim agreement (55%, 37% oppose) as worded below (see here for full survey question wording):

As you may know, the United States and five other world powers recently reached an interim agreement with Iran that would reduce some economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for a commitment by Iran to temporarily limit some parts of its nuclear program, while a final agreement is being negotiated. Do you favor or oppose this agreement? [IF FAVOR/OPPOSE] Do you feel that way strongly or not so strongly?

Similar to other polls, two thirds (66%) thought it was unlikely that Iran will live up to and abide by the interim agreement (31% likely).

All good so far.

The survey moves on to ask respondents a series of statements that address whether or not the US should have required Iran to completely abandon its nuclear program before reducing sanctions (57% should have), whether or not the United States should have pushed for greater concessions before agreeing to reduce sanctions (47% each for should have and should not have). Basically, these questions present arguments that have been used publicly by advocates and opponents of the interim agreement, which might move an individual’s initial preference on the agreement.   They also highlight several items that were NOT included in the interim agreement, which could perhaps persuade a person to change their initial view.

Israel Project Survey - Questions about Sanctions Bill

After asking how informed respondents are about the sanctions bill (37% heard “nothing at all,” 31% “not too much,” 22% “some,” 9% “a great deal”), the respondents are then asked  a heavily loaded question that results in majority support for the congressional legislation (78% favor, 64% strongly) (wording below; bolding my own):

Just so we are on the same page, there is legislation in the Senate sponsored by 59 Senators from both parties that would trigger new sanctions on Iran if they cheat on the terms of the current interim agreement, fail to negotiate a final deal to eliminate their ability to make nuclear weapons, or if they are found to be involved in a terrorist act against the United States during nuclear talks. Do you favor or oppose this legislation? [IF FAVOR/OPPOSE] Do you feel that way strongly or not so strongly?

At this point, the survey presents the respondents with a series of possible situations that could occur if Iran is able to develop a nuclear weapon, and asked how concerned he or she is about each item, including:

Now I am going to read you a list of things that could happen if Iran is able to develop a nuclear weapon. How concerned are you by each? (% concerned a great deal)
Iran could give nuclear weapons to terrorist groups trying to attack the United States and our allies 78%
Iran could use nuclear weapons to attack American troops in the Middle-East 75%
Iran is developing nuclear-armed ballistic missiles that could enable them to launch a nuclear attack on the United States by 2015 73%
Allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons could embolden other countries to develop nuclear weapons, triggering an arms race in one of the most dangerous parts of the world 71%
A nuclear-armed Iran could launch nuclear weapons against Israel, our closest ally in the region 70%
Iran could become a regional superpower that is even harder to deter than it is now 66%
Iran would have the capability to menace oil suppliers, causing the price of oil and gasoline to increase, threatening the global economy 64%
America’s influence around the world would be undermined 58%
Source: The Israel Project. Conducted by The Mellman Group, Inc. on 24 January 2014.

Clearly the survey has ceased being neutral well before this point.  After reviewing all the ways that Iran could endanger the US and the world, the questions then turn back to the congressional legislation.  Respondents were shown two statements, one encapsulating points that have been made by the bill’s supporters and the other by the bill’s opponents.  After reading these paragraphs, 63 percent said they favored the legislation, and 28 percent opposed them. While both paragraphs use some biased language, the one in support of the bill has a few more lively phrases (bolding my own):

Now I am going to read you statement by supporters and opponents of increasing economic pressure against Iran:[ROTATE STATEMENTS]

Supporters of the bipartisan bill say it strengthens diplomacy and increases our chances of peacefully stopping Iran. In fact, it is Congressional sanctions that finally pushed Iran into negotiations, and it is pressure that will keep them there and convince them to compromise. Given Iran’s history of lying about its nuclear program and violating agreements, Iran cannot be trusted. Their threats to walk away from talks are not new and not credible – they need a deal more than we do. Unfortunately, the “interim” agreement has too many loopholes, relieves financial pressure prematurely, and undercuts the leverage we need to end the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. Passing legislation laying out sanctions should Iran cheat, or refuse a final agreement, balances the interim deal, supports our diplomacy and will help get a good final deal.

OR

Opponents of the legislation say the interim agreement negotiated between the United States and Iran, and the current diplomatic process to reach a final agreement, is the best way to ensure that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons in the future, and those pushing for more sanctions on Iran are putting the country on a path to war. Part of the agreement states that no new sanctions are to be imposed while the permanent agreement is being negotiated. Therefore, new sanctions now will cause this deal to fall apart and Iran will continue developing nuclear weapons. Moreover, the United States risks losing support from our allies who made these sanctions successful. We can always restore and strengthen sanctions against Iran if things change, but we should give this agreement a chance to work first.

Now that you’ve heard arguments on both sides of the issue, do you favor or oppose this legislation triggering new sanctions against Iran? [IF FAVOR/OPPOSE] Do you feel that way strongly or not so strongly?

On the question of whether Congress should approve a final deal before sanctions are lifted, two opposing statements were shown, with a majority (69%) falling on the side of giving Congress approval.  But just before these statements were presented, respondents were asked whether they favor or oppose a series of actions that Iran could be required to take before a final agreement, including many that are outside the scope of the current plan. (If interested for exact wording, see full survey questionnaire).

Bottom Line:  It is true that a majority of Americans distrust Iran, as the Israel Project and several other surveys have shown, and Americans are skeptical about Iran’s intention to follow through with the requirements.  It is also true that many Americans disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the situation in Iran, as this survey also shows. And at least these questions present some arguments for both sides (though not even-handedly). But once respondents are given information to try to persuade them to change their views one way or another – repeatedly – the survey no longer represents a credible reading of public opinion. Unfortunately biased questions contaminate all the results that follow. The type of survey questionnaire employed for the Israel project is very useful for message testing for a candidate or policy campaign, but these results that focus on the sanctions bill should not be mistaken for an accurate sounding of public opinion.

 

9 thoughts on “Attitude Adjusting: New Polls on US Opinion of Iran Agreement

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  8. 2-07-14 3:47 am
    Mode: e-mail
    By: Panda (a quickie) Was the Pope wrong?

    Obama’s Dangerous Iran Game Becoming Clears – Peter Foster, Telegraph.com – The new Senate sanctions bill (now successfully stalled, it seems) didn’t call for new sanctions straight away. What it did was seek to put a hard floor under the negotiations process: if no deal was reached within 12 months – the six months of the “interim deal” plus six months grace – then the sanctions would kick in.
    The P5+1 have started these negotiations by constantly advertising their bottom line, to the point that people like Jack Straw are sent to Tehran to warn sceptics on the his own side about the risk of Tehran walking away if we drive too hard a bargain.
    This is like playing poker and warning your fellow players in advance just how big a bet they need to make in order to bluff you into folding your hand.
    It is pretty clear the game that is being played here. On sanctions, on time frames the goalposts are shifting as many sceptics predicted they would.
    It is pretty clear the game that is being played here. On sanctions, on time frames the goalposts are shifting as many sceptics predicted they would.

    The brief: Iran insists it has no interest in nuclear weapons only nuclear power but the United States and its allies are skeptical.

    On 2-06 a Democrat spoke in the Senate well on the subject. After laying out the Tom & Jerry, where our President is the incompetent cat in catching the house mouse. He stated. (Paraphrasing) On the current course, our next President WILL face either the acceptance of a nuclear armed Iran or war.

    The Jews, in my understanding, are correct in their MUST be a hard floor – being the removal of centrafuses, heavy H2O2 water plant & nuclear trigger testing plant. Their brief: Iran unconditional acceptance of the hard floor or war. Iran can ask for reasonable carrots, however, the stick is nonnegotiable.

    Commentary: There are lots of levels on this.
    Iran is playing our President & the 5P+1 there WILL be not war coming from this President, i.e. “red Line/a fixed floor.”
    The Shiites & Sunnis are in a regional civil war. The world’s nation/state actors have drawn up alliances to engage in this by proxy. The Sunnis nation/states in the region have made it clear: if Iran get’s their nuclear weapons, we SHALL build our own.
    The downside to having an expansion of weapons of mass destruction (WMD’S) is on use of them – noting how ground level control, for the volatile, unpredictable & explosive Middle East; is at most optimistic is problematic — is nondiscretionary, i.e., everyone dies in collateral damage. 2) Where once petrol was used for capital inflows, the threats of use, not directly from one nation/state on another nation/state, but thru plausible denial “terrorism.” 2a) On use, OPEC oil pricing will explode above $200 per barrel – international stability stresses out between the have (of domestic oil) and have not’s. This will change our current world order/understanding.

    The downside to war, or non-declared conflict, with Iran. Not only will global oil prices exceed unacceptable level, but the terrorism WILL be coming from two fronts (for generations) from Shiites & Sunnis. 2) The balance of regional powers WILL change to favor the Sunnis. 3) Peace WILL ONLY come with Iran UNCONDISTIONAL SURENDER. 3a) that means fighting to win, not cash for combat. 3a1) that mean devastation, repeat devastation, of Iran’s electrical grid, water & sewer, communications, major bridges and dams. A remaining Iran State so far in debt, it’ll take two generations to rebuild. The Shiites will NEVER forgive us. 4) If you think our current fiscal debt to GDP is bad, this action WILL put us (and many other nation/states) at questionable, i.e., non-trust, levels of repayment. 4a) Here non-alliance, sideline, nation/states is given more leverage over our domestic economy.

    Conclusion: The judgment comes down to either a terrorist prone regional nation/states with WMD(s) vs on going to war resulting in a far weaker western alliance domestic economies.
    US nuclear inspectors is a breaking point on the willingness of Iran to acknowledge reestablishing a global economic role.
    Senate sanctions is only pressure not the end game.

    Summary Opinion: our President, thru his actions conceding to Iran’s demand for home produce nuclear power that international plays are flying to Iran for contracts. Such acts comes from the US White House that PRESIDENT MADE UP HIS MIND to kick this dilemma to the next President. As a professional Con Artist, our President WILL NOT explain himself to his citizens on this major subject.

    Panda,
    The saddest commentary is or national media, breast sucking on the political, economic apartheid, complex (clinging to their high-end disposable incomes) will bullet points omission that our two political parties are not in collusion, while playing The People in the resulting blame game.
    The real economy US citizens are not worthy enough to be treated as adults. I, personally, do not see the success from being lied to. I do, however, see a lot of resentment (Jim Bo talk radio) toward the people & journalist seeking the truth. The messaging is; if you like your banana republic, you can keep. If you do not – too bad.

    Back Note: I am sick and tired, and tired of being sick, of these assholes in the US Senate. Hee-hee willing to compromise The People. They should override their President’s veto threat and pass the sanctions. I will not hold my breath, for publically keep their legal corruption secrets prevents decent. If you don’t like being treated like a child – well to bad, get use to it. We (US Senate) are the look away club. We have fiends too big to jail, or punish, too big to manage, to arrogant to fail, to well funded to care.

  9. Pingback: How Hawks Are Manipulating Polling On Iran |  SHOAH

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