As in any political campaign, Jewish supporters and opponents of the Iran nuclear agreement are promoting the results of opinion polls to support their position. But how reliable are those polls? And why is it that polling results on the same issue are so dramatically different?
One poll, conducted by the liberal group J Street, which supports the agreement, found that supporters outnumber opponents 60 to 40 percent. A second poll, by The Israel Project, which opposes the Iran deal, found American Jews oppose the deal by 47 to 44 percent. A poll by the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, which has no political affiliation, found more support than opposition: 48 to 28 percent.
The differing results seem to be based upon what is asked and how the questions are framed. To take an example from each: The TIP poll asked the following question three times: “Now that you have some more information, in your own opinion, do you think that Congress should vote to approve the deal and lift sanctions on Iran or reject the deal and not lift sanctions on Iran?” The percentage of those rejecting the deal grew each time the question was asked. Similarly, one question in the J Street poll appeared to add information that could bolster support for the agreement.
In contrast, the Jewish Journal poll asked questions that were straightforward. In one, the words “good idea” and “bad idea” were even rotated to eliminate bias: “In retrospect, was it a (good idea) or a (bad idea) for the U.S. to conduct negotiations with Iran, or are you not sure whether it was a good idea or a bad idea?”
Writing in The Hill, veteran Democratic pollster Mark Mellman looked at polling of the American electorate on the issue and likewise found that how questions were worded had a dramatic effect on the results. He concluded that while most Americans are likely to support the easing of economic sanctions against Iran in return for Iran halting its nuclear weapons development — polls revealing American support of the Iran deal tend to frame the issue this way — when provided with details about the deal and the objections raised, most Americans are just as likely to not trust Iran to uphold its end of the bargain.
“A fair interpretation of the data suggests Americans’ natural inclination is to oppose this deal,” he writes, “though they would support an agreement they believed would accomplish supporters’ goals.”
Those considering the Iran agreement and its merits are well advised to focus on the details of the deal and the merit of the answers to questions that have been raised about it. Once you have reached a conclusion on the merits, it won’t be hard to find a poll that will support that view.