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Spin, polls and ignorance mark out Iran deal in U.S.

A Pew Research poll published on Tuesday showed that only 38% of Americans who had heard of the Iran deal supported it

Published: Updated:

Two US polls on the Iran deal with contradictory results explain the role spin can play when it comes to popular opinion and the big opportunity both sides of the Iran debate have before the end of the congressional review period in two months.

A Pew Research poll published on Tuesday showed that only 38% of Americans who had heard of the Iran deal supported it, while 48% disapproved. Compare that with a Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Monday which points to 56% approval versus 37% disapproval.

The almost 20 percent difference can be attributed to the question asked, pollsters from both organizations say. “It’s competing wording on a low knowledge issue” says Peyton Craighill of the Washington Post.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll wrote the question as following “The US and other countries have announced a deal to lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran agreeing not to produce nuclear weapons. International inspector would monitor Iran’s facilities and if Iran is caught breaking the agreement, economic sanctions would be imported again. Do you support of oppose this agreement?” The Pew poll, on the other hand, asked the people polled if they had heard of the Iran agreement, (almost 80% had heard of it,) those who had were then asked “from what you know, do you approve or disapprove of this agreement?”

Carroll Doherty of Pew says the results reflect decades of animosity between the US and Iran. “People are still digesting it, but there is distrust of Iran and its leaders and you see that reflected in the agreement.”

“As people learn more about the deal, opinions can become more formed and that's something we can see in the coming weeks and months.” Says Craighill.

Both polls however show the deep mistrust Americans have of Iran and their skepticism that the deal will carry through, a sentiment shared even among supporters of the deal. The Pew poll shows that 73% of Americans familiar with the agreement don’t think that Iran’s leaders will uphold their side of the deal.

Only a quarter of Americans surveyed by Pew say the relationship between the US and Iran will improve due to the deal. Forty-two percent say the relationship will stay the same. The rest (28%) think it will get worse.

Craighill likens it to the relationship between the US and Cuba. “Decades and decades of mistrust have hardened opinions, but once overtures were made, opinions have blossomed, at least in terms of our outlook on Cuba. It's hard to know if public opinion will follow on Iran because it's a different culture and it's more distant. But as people learn more, things can change.”

The polls also detail the partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats on the Iran issue. According to the Washington Post-ABC News poll 69% of Democrats support the deal compared to 41% of Republicans. Craighill says the partisanship was sharpened during the debate over Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s speech to Congress-arguing against the deal- earlier in the year. Democrats rallied to support the administration, which opposed the speech.

“Democrats support the deal and Republicans oppose it, but not as sharply as Democrats support it.” Says Craighill. “So there is room for growth.”