Americans don’t love the Iran deal. There is a lot they wish were different. But when they look at it closely, review hard-hitting critiques, and—perhaps most importantly—evaluate the alternatives, a clear majority recommends that their Members of Congress approve of the deal. Republicans do not concur, though they don’t settle on an alternative.
These are the findings of a new in-depth survey of a citizen advisory panel, consisting of a representative sample of 702 registered voters. Fifty-five percent of the panelists endorsed approving the deal, including 72 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of independents, but only 33 percent of Republicans.
The study was conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation together with the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland. Panelists were recruited by Nielsen Scarborough from its larger national panel recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households.
The online panel, called the ‘Citizen Cabinet,’ first went through an in-depth process, called a ‘policymaking simulation,’ which was developed in consultation with Congressional staffers and other experts to assure accuracy and balance.
Panelists were given a briefing on the background and the terms of the deal and evaluated a series of strongly-stated critiques of the deal plus rebuttals to those critiques. The critiques focused on the fact that the deal allows Iran a limited enrichment program, that there are some sites to which inspectors cannot gain instant access, that there are time limits on some of the constraints on their nuclear program and that with the lifting of sanctions Iran will gain about $100 billion in unfrozen assets. Both the critiques and the rebuttals were found convincing by majorities, but larger majorities found the critiques convincing.
Alternatives to the deal were presented, including arguments for and against. But when the panelists were asked to make their final recommendation, none of alternatives were seen as more attractive than the deal.
The alternative most widely promoted by Congressional opponents—to seek to renegotiate the deal to get better terms—was recommended by just 14 percent. The reasons were pretty clear. Fifty-four percent thought it was unlikely that other permanent members of the UN Security Council would cooperate with such an effort, while an overwhelming 79 percent thought it unlikely that Iran would agree to return to negotiations and to make more concessions.
Another alternative—ramping up sanctions on Iran and other countries that do business with Iran until Iran gives up its nuclear enrichment program and allows anytime/anywhere inspections—did a bit better, with 23 percent recommending it.
The alternative of threatening military strikes against Iran’s nuclear sites was recommended by just 7 percent. Eighty-one percent thought that such threats would likely not be effective.
Republicans departed substantially from the majority position, but did not come to a consensus as to what to do instead. The largest number—36 percent—recommended ramping up sanctions, followed closely by 33 percent who recommended approval of the deal. One in five recommended trying to renegotiate and get a better deal. Only 9 percent recommended threatening to use military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The study was also sponsored by Voice Of the People, which promotes the development of Citizen Cabinets to give the people a greater voice in policymaking.
The policymaking simulation that the Citizen Cabinet went through is available online at www.vop.org, so any citizen can go through the same process, learn about the issue, make their own recommendations and send them to their representatives in Congress.
A report on the survey’s results, “Assessing the Iran Deal” can be found here.
Steven Kull is president and founder of Voice Of the People, and director of the Program for Public Consultation, School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland.
This column first appeared at Huffington Post on September 2, 2015