Shortly after the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran was announced, Max Fisher of the Washington Post trumpeted Americans support an Iran nuclear deal 2 to 1. That’s a big deal.
But those polls dealt in generalities. It’s easy to support negotiations in principle; it’s much harder to support a specific deal, which would necessarily require U.S. concessions as well as placing a degree of trust in the Iranian government, which is not exactly popular here in the United States. The reason this latest poll merits special attention is that it asked Americans whether they would support the deal currently under discussion between Iran and the major world powers at Geneva.
But in subsequent weeks, a funny thing has happened, support the deal has eroded as Shmuel Rosner shows in a recent column tracking polls on the topic.
While the first polls following the the recent interim agreement with Iran all showed that the deal was met with a generally positive reaction by the American public, the latest Pew survey puts this view in question (according to Pew, there are more Americans who disapprove of the deal than Americans who support it). Is this a result of some of the public criticism the deal has received- or is it a matter of phrasing the question and of methodology?
Even a Reuters poll from the end of November that shows support for the deal by a ratio of two to one (44 percent to 22 percent) found 34 percent had no opinion on the deal. (Rosner supplied the “no opinion” number.)
A poll this week by Frank Luntz commissioned by The Israel Project showed broad bipartisan distrust of Iran and an overwhelming majority (84%) believe that Iran is using negotiations “to stall as they continue to develop their ability to make nuclear weapons.”
How can we explain those early poll numbers? My best guess is that for weeks a “historic” deal was hype in the news and by the administration. However once the hype subsided, American started reverting to their well earned mistrust of Iran. It’s hard to recall but as recently as May, Pew found that 94% of Americans opposed Iran developing nuclear weapons and 63% approved of military force to prevent that from happening. (Support for military action was at about 50% among Europeans who were polled.)
Lee Smith has looked at the polling data and drew this conclusion:
Virtually every poll on the Iran issue, from Pew surveys dating back to 2009 up to a Washington Post/ABC poll post-Geneva, gives clear evidence that Americans want a negotiated settlement. But they show just as plainly that a majority of the American public does not believe the Iranian regime is negotiating in good faith. According to the Masdar/Tower poll, 77 percent of all respondents distrust the mullahs who, according to 69 percent, constitute a greater threat to U.S. national security than all other threats in the Middle East combined.
In other words, the American public prioritizes its strategic concerns. They believe—rightly in our view—that the regime in Tehran is hostile to America. The public doesn’t trust it to bargain in good faith and doesn’t believe it will stop in its march toward a nuclear bomb. Yes, Americans are weary—of a president who takes a cavalier attitude toward national security.