Informed Americans oppose pulling out of Iran deal

Op-ed: Two thirds of Americans oppose scrapping the Iran deal when presented with argument information.

President Donald J. Trump campaigned on ripping up the nuclear deal with Iran and seeking to negotiate a better one. However a recent survey from the University of Maryland's Program for Public Consultation finds that nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose this idea.

Because this is the kind of topic to which many Americans do not have enough information to give a meaningful response, respondents went through a "policymaking simulation" — a survey method that gives the respondent enough information to put themselves in the shoes of a policy maker and come to judgment on the issue. The survey was fielded Dec. 22-28 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.8 percent.

The adult respondents — 2,980 of them, all drawn from Nielsen-Scarborough's probability-based national panel (which was recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households) — were first presented the main terms of the deal that was negotiated between the U.N. Security Council (plus Germany) and Iran over its nuclear program, and asked to evaluate an argument for withdrawing and seeking to renegotiate the deal and an argument for continuing with it.

The argument in favor of withdrawing emphasized that the deal still allows Iran to enrich uranium and only limits this enrichment for 10 to 15 years, leaving the Iranians in a position to break out of the deal and seek to acquire a nuclear weapon. Thus, it makes sense to pull out of the deal and seek to negotiate terms that put greater limits on Iran. This argument was found convincing by 52 percent of respondents, including 73 percent of Republicans and 34 percent of Democrats.

The argument in favor of continuing with the deal emphasized that it does place limits on Iran, preventing it from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and that other countries are not likely to follow the U.S. lead if it pulls out and seeks to renegotiate. This argument was found convincing by 63 percent, including 47 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of Democrats.

Respondents were then asked how optimistic they were that other U.N. members could be persuaded to join in the effort to renegotiate. Overall 58 percent thought it was likely, including a majority of both Democrats and Republicans.

But when they were then asked how likely it was that Iran would agree to renegotiate the deal and make more concessions, seven in 10 were pessimistic. This was a bipartisan perspective that included 64 percent of Republicans as well as 75 percent of Democrats.

When asked for their final recommendation, 64 percent recommended continuing with the deal as long as Iran continues to comply with the terms, while 34 percent opted for withdrawing and seeking to negotiate a better deal.

While an overwhelming 86 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents favored continuing with the deal, only 40 percent of Republicans concurred. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans favored withdrawing and seeking to renegotiate. Interestingly, support for renegotiating was high among Republicans, though among those who favored renegotiation, 57 percent said it was unlikely that the negotiations would succeed.

Steven Kull (skull@umd.edu) is director of the Program for Public Consultation within the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland.

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