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The Nuclear Deal and Public Opinion

Fox News has released a poll on Iran that uses wildly misleading questions to get the desired results:

Voters overwhelmingly reject that deal: 84 percent — including 80 percent of Democrats — think it’s a bad idea to allow Iran to get nuclear weapons 10 years from now in return for agreeing it won’t obtain nukes before then.

That would be a lot more interesting and relevant if it had anything to do with the nuclear deal now being negotiated. If there is a final agreement, Iran’s nuclear program would be placed under significant limits, it would be closely monitored, and only after a decade would those limits start to be lifted. Of course, there could always been a future agreement that renews or extends the provisions of such a deal, but there is no question of “allowing” Iran to “get nukes” ten years from now when the deal would end. The NPT would still apply in ten years’ time, there would still be inspections, and Iran still wouldn’t be “allowed” to have nuclear weapons. The wording of the question is ridiculous: “Do you think it’s a good idea or a bad idea to allow Iran to get nuclear weapons 10 years from now in return for it agreeing that it won’t obtain nuclear weapons before then?” The pollster has egregiously misinformed the respondents with this question and framed the issue so incompetently (or dishonestly) that the responses are of no real value.

After all, Iran is still a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and the NPT prohibits the development of nuclear weapons. Unless Iran chooses to withdraw from the treaty or decides to violate its terms by building nuclear weapons, Iran isn’t going to “get nukes” then or at any time. I emphasize Iran’s membership in the NPT here because it is a basic piece of information about the nuclear issue, but it is one that most Americans apparently don’t know. According to one recent survey, 65% of Americans say that they hadn’t heard about Iran’s membership in the NPT. That isn’t entirely surprising, since much of the coverage of the nuclear issue has framed it in alarmist and irresponsible ways, but it is striking that the public has apparently been unaware of one of the most important pieces of information about Iran’s nuclear program. Imagine how much more supportive of a diplomatic solution the public might have been over all these years if this simple fact were more widely known.

The purpose of the current deal is to limit significantly Iran’s ability to build nuclear weapons over the next decade and to make it much more difficult for Iran to try without alerting the world to what it is doing. Everything about the framing of the Fox News question is wrong (shocking, I know), but it makes it seem as if the public is overwhelmingly against the deal. The result from this garbage question is being touted by hard-liners as proof that Americans don’t accept the deal, but that isn’t true.

Much more accurate questions yield dramatically different results:

Negotiations over a proposed deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program are coming to a head while a new study finds a clear majority of Americans – 61 percent – support an agreement that would limit Iran’s enrichment capacity and impose additional intrusive inspections in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions. This included 61 percent of Republicans, 66 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents.

The alternative option, being promoted by some members of Congress, calls for ending the current negotiations, and increasing sanctions in an effort to get Iran to stop all uranium enrichment. This approach was recommended by 36 percent.

When the public is presented with an accurate description of a possible diplomatic compromise that limits Iran’s nuclear program, there is broad support for it across party lines. Because hard-liners are dead-set against any deal, they are bound to celebrate any poll, no matter how worthless or misleading its questions, that finds “proof” that the public agrees with them. The reality is that most Americans are in favor of a compromise deal on the nuclear issue, and they don’t share the hard-liners’ rabid hostility to diplomacy with Iran.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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