By 49%-40%, Americans approve of the idea of negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program, according to a new poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
And by nearly 2-1, according to a new Washington Post/ABC poll, the public backs the general concept behind an agreement -- that the U.S. and other countries "would lift major economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons."
A sharp partisan divide exists, however, on whether to accept that trade-off. Democrats and independents overwhelmingly said they would favor such a deal. Republicans divided almost equally, with 47% saying they would support it and 43% saying they would not. Conservative Republicans said by 49%-40% that they would oppose such an agreement.
Although most Americans are ready to back a deal, less than 40% said in the Washington Post/ABC poll that they were even "somewhat confident" that the agreement actually would prevent Iran from building a bomb. By contrast, 59% said they were "not so confident" or "not confident at all" of success. Such public skepticism about whether a deal would work has been consistent throughout the talks.
Similarly, in the Pew poll, Americans by 63%-27% said they did not think Iranian leaders were "serious about addressing international concerns" over their nuclear program. Those who said the Iranians were serious supported negotiations by more than 2-1; those who said they were not serious were closely divided.
In general, the public sees Iran's nuclear program as a threat, but only a minority see the danger as imminent.
In a recent CBS poll, for example, three in four Americans said they saw Iran's nuclear program as a threat, but 45% said they thought it could be contained. Another 18% said the program was not a threat. By contrast, 29% said the threat was one that "requires military action now."
As with the question about the overall framework of the deal, the issue of how big a threat Iran's program poses splits Americans along partisan lines. Republicans are closely divided on that issue, with 45% saying the risk from Iran requires military action now while 51% said the situation could be contained or wasn't a current threat. Among Democrats 20% said the threat requires action now, while 73% said it could be contained or wasn't a threat.
The public has significantly more agreement on wanting Congress, not just the Obama administration, to have a say over any deal with Iran. By 2-1 in the Pew survey, Americans said Congress should "have final authority for approving any agreement."
Support for a congressional role is consistent with views on major international actions taken under previous presidents -- the public generally wants to see agreement by more than one decision-maker.
The Obama administration has opposed any immediate congressional vote on an Iran deal. The president has the authority to waive some economic sanctions against Iran, but Congress would have to vote before others could be lifted. The Senate is expected to begin acting in mid-April on a bill that would insist on a congressional role.
Americans have generally given President Obama mediocre marks on his handling of relations with Iran. In the recent CBS poll, for example, 38% approved of Obama's actions, and 47% disapproved.
But the public doesn't think Republicans in Congress are doing better. By 54%-27% in the CBS survey, the public disapproved of how the GOP was handling Iran relations.
The Pew survey was conducted March 25-29 among 1,500 adult Americans and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. The Post/ABC poll was conducted March 26-29 among 1,003 adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The CBS poll was conducted March 21-24 among 1,023 adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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