On Iran, public opinion reveals a supportive and skeptical America

For months, the American people have been signaling their willingness to enter into a nuclear deal with Iran—and their skepticism that the deal will work. In recent days, two new opinion surveys show that these sentiments have persisted as the negotiations with Iran have dragged on.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that 59 percent of Americans continue to support an agreement along the lines now been discussed, while 31 percent opposed it. This total includes majorities of most sub-groups as well as a 47 percent plurality of Republicans. But 59 percent of Americans also doubt that the deal would prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Only 4 percent are “very confident” that the deal would work, while 34 percent express a complete lack of confidence.

The Pew Research Center finds a smaller 49 percent plurality in favor of direct negotiations with Iran on the nuclear issue—62 percent of Democrats, only 36 percent of Republicans, and a country-mirroring 49 percent of Independent. At the same time, fully 63 percent say that the Iranians are “not serious” about addressing our concerns. Only 15 percent of Republicans, 28 percent of Independents, and 39 percent of Democrats express a more optimistic view of Iranian intentions.

Not surprisingly, the Pew results show a link between attitudes toward negotiations and assessment of Iran’s intentions. Two-thirds of those who think Iran is serious favor direct negotiations with the Islamic Republic; half of those who think that Iran is not serious oppose the negotiations.

Notably, 42 percent of Americans who doubt the Iranians’ seriousness nonetheless favor negotiations with them. This is consistent with prior survey research showing that most Americans do not want to use military force against Iran until every alternative to war has been exhausted. Opponents of the current negotiations have not made their case that there is a third alternative—a negotiated deal significantly better than the current talks are likely to produce.

Still, Americans are unwilling to leave the outcome fully in the Obama administration’s hands. Fully 62 percent want Congress to have the final authority for approving any US-Iran nuclear agreement. This super-majority includes not only four out of five Republicans but also two-thirds of Independents and even 42 percent of Democrats.

If the current negotiating deadline fails to produce a framework agreement, Congress is poised to act when it reconvenes after its Easter/Passover break. Tennessee’s Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is offering a straightforward approach: President Obama should transmit the eventual agreement (if there is one) to Congress, which would have 60 days to act. During that period, the President would be prohibited from relaxing or waiving any existing sanctions. And if Congress passes a joint resolution of disapproval within 60 days, the President would be debarred from doing so, presumably until the legislative branch changes its mind.

The White House has suggested that the President would veto any such bill. Even if he were to make good on this threat, however, it is not clear that he could mobilize enough Democrats to prevent his veto from being overridden. In the end, he could well be forced to accept congressional involvement.