Do Americans support the Iran deal? A lot depends on how they’re asked

John Kerry, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, meets July 16 in Washington with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel Jubeir, to talk about the nuclear agreement that the U.S. and five other world powers have negotiated with Iran. Kerry will take the lead Thursday as top administration officials begin selling the pact on Capitol Hill.

(Michael Reynolds / European Pressphoto Agency )

Americans support the nuclear agreement with Iran by 56% to 37%. No, they disapprove of the deal, 48% to 38%.

The conflicting findings come from respected polling operations with long track records of accurately tracking public opinion. A Washington Post/ABC News survey released Monday found Americans supporting the deal; a poll from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center released Tuesday found disapproval.

How can both be correct? Question wording seems likely to be a big part of the answer.

The Pew survey asked people, “How much, if anything, have you heard about a recent agreement on Iran’s nuclear program between Iran, the United States and other nations?” and then asked, “From what you know, do you approve or disapprove” of the agreement?


The Post/ABC poll asked a longer question that gave more of a description of the agreement:

“As you may know, the U.S. and other countries have announced a deal to lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran agreeing not to produce nuclear weapons. International inspectors would monitor Iran’s facilities, and if Iran is caught breaking the agreement, economic sanctions would be imposed again. Do you support or oppose this agreement?”

The fact that the two questions elicited substantially different responses tells a couple of important things: Public opinion about the deal remains fluid, and a significant number of people, maybe 1 in 5, are open to being swayed by the debate that will intensify over the next several weeks.

Almost 80% of those surveyed by Pew said they already had heard at least something about the nuclear agreement, with about one-third of the public saying they had heard a lot.


President Obama has made repeated public statements in support of the deal in recent days, and three Cabinet secretaries plan to testify Thursday when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to begin public hearings on it.

Both polls agree on a couple of other key points: Regardless of whether they approve of the deal, a large majority of Americans are skeptical of whether it will work, and partisanship strongly shapes how people feel about the agreement.

In the Pew survey, just short of three-quarters of Americans said they had little or no confidence that “Iran’s leaders would uphold their side.” In the Post/ABC poll, about two-thirds voiced considerable skepticism about whether the agreement would succeed in preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

Republicans in both surveys were far more skeptical and much more likely to disapprove of the agreement than were Democrats or independents.

The Post/ABC survey was conducted July 16-19 among a random national sample of 1,002 adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The Pew survey was conducted from July 14, the day the agreement was announced, through July 20. It involved a random national sample of 2,002 adults, of whom 1,672 said they had heard at least something about the agreement, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 points. Both polls called both cellphones and land lines.

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