The Obama administration has to be worried about the polling data on the Iran deal. It’s not good, not good at all.
According to Pew, which released a survey this week, 38 percent support it and 48 percent oppose.
Given the fact that the American people usually follow the president’s lead when it comes to foreign policy, this is a pretty bleak result for President Obama.
Even more striking, perhaps, is the relative softness of Democratic support — only 59 percent of Obama’s fellow Dems support the pact, fewer than three in five. (Unsurprisingly, nearly 80 percent of Republicans oppose the deal.)
The Pew results appear to contradict an earlier Washington Post/ABC poll that found 56 percent support for the deal with 37 percent against.
But that 56-37 number is hinky. It doesn’t jibe with other findings in the same survey.
For example, 35 percent said they approved of the president’s handling of Iran, while 52 percent disapproved.
Since the president’s “handling of Iran” now boils down exclusively to the pact he made with the mullahs, that painfully low 35 percent approval rating for Obama on Iran is impossible to square with 56 percent support for the deal.
Even more impossible to square are the feelings the public has about the deal.
In the words of James Arkin of Real Clear Politics, “just 35 percent of Americans said they were confident the deal would prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon — and only 6 percent were ‘very confident.’
“Meanwhile, 64 percent said they were not confident the deal would halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions, with 42 percent saying they had absolutely no confidence.”
These numbers actually confirm rather than undermine the subsequent Pew findings.
Pew’s survey is much larger than its predecessor, with nearly 1,700 respondents who say they know something about the terms of the deal.
Pew explains the discrepancy by pointing to the difference in the way the organizations approached the issue:
“The Pew Research question, which does not describe the agreement, finds lower levels of support than the Post/ABC News question, which details the intention to monitor Iran’s facilities and raises the possibility of re-imposition of sanctions if Iran does not comply.”
In other words, when the pact is described as the administration would want it to be described, it gets soft support — but the overall sense remains that Obama has done a bad job of it when it comes to Iran.
Even more important, the two surveys agree when it comes to the public’s confidence that the deal will actually restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The public has no such confidence.
What the polls suggest is that the people of the United States understand that, in the end, the Iran deal is a leap of faith — faith in the mullahs, if you can imagine that, and even more ominously, faith in the so-called “international community.”
It is only remotely sensible, as a matter of policy, if you believe that Iran won’t cheat and that the international community would care enough if Iran did cheat to enact punishments for its misbehavior.
But if the lessons of recent history teach you that Iran will cheat and there won’t be any real will outside the US Congress (and perhaps the next president) to impose sanctions on it for doing so, then it’s a mistake.
So it all comes down to what you believe, and a week of intense lobbying has not changed the public’s lack of trust in the Iranians or its sense that the president isn’t handling the Iranians effectively.
Opponents of the deal have a nearly Sisyphean task ahead in the next two months.
They have to convince 13 Democratic Senators and 43 Democratic House members to vote against the deal — and then to vote a second time to override a presidential veto.
I didn’t think this would be possible to achieve when all was said and done, but these poll numbers offer a glimmer of real hope the deal will be rejected by Congress in September — especially since wavering representatives and senators will be going home in August and will be barraged by arguments on the part of those opposed to the deal.