This is consistent with O’s numbers being in the toilet on, well, everything, but whenever I see a poll on a subject as esoteric as this, I think of those Jimmy Kimmel man-on-the-street interviews where he gets people to opine on stuff that hasn’t actually happened. Lots of low-information voters out there, and relatively few of them are willing to cop to being one when put on the spot by a reporter or pollster.
How many people at your Thanksgiving dinner table could summarize the Geneva deal with Iran in, say, three sentences? QED.
Wait a sec. Less than three weeks ago, CNN found 56 percent in favor of the deal. What gives? Three possibilities. One: Stuff that’s happened in the interim, like Iran challenging the White House’s interpretation of the agreement and both parties in Congress rattling their sabers about new sanctions, have soured opinion. I’m skeptical about that, though, just because it would mean the public was paying close attention to post-deal political maneuvers. But why would they do that? Even in Pew’s poll, only 24 percent say they’ve read “a lot” about the deal. They barely pay attention to Afghanistan anymore. They’re not hanging on Steny Hoyer’s every word, I promise you, especially during the holidays.
Two: Maybe it’s a function of the dip in Obama’s popularity generally. His favorable rating sank after the “if you like your plan” lie blew up in the media. His job approval has inched upward in the most recent polls, but he’s still not where he was at just a month ago in RCP’s poll average. At some point, the perception that he’s incompetent and a liar might have spread to the point where it’s affecting perceptions of everything he touches, including the Iran nuke deal. The problem with that theory, though, is that his disapproval on foreign policy specifically really hasn’t declined much since the deal was struck. It was the Syria “red line” fiasco in August that pushed him considerably lower in that metric and he’s bounced around -15 or so ever since. Not sure how that would explain 56 percent in favor of the Iran deal a month ago and 32 percent in favor in Pew’s poll now.
Three: Maybe it’s a simple case of how the question was worded. Check out the phrasing of CNN’s question compared to the phrasing of the Pew question above:
The Pew question is completely opaque on the details except for the magic word “Iran.” That’s what the Kimmel set is reacting to there, I think; they’ve heard we made a deal with Iran, they know Iran’s not trustworthy, ergo it’s a bad deal. The CNN question, on the other hand, has lots of detail, punctuated by the magical phrase “major restrictions on its nuclear program.” To the Kimmel set, that sounds pretty good! Way to go, Barack. For purposes of the poll, whether the terms of the deal really do represent a major restriction is almost beside the point. Remember, according to nuke experts, Geneva’s requirement that Iran enrich uranium to only low levels of purity would add just two months to their bombmaking process if/when they decided they wanted a nuclear weapon. It’s not a major restriction, it’s a so-called “confidence-building measure” designed to see if Iran will keep up its end of the bargain for six months while a comprehensive deal is negotiated. But if you’re a pollster and you frame it as a big win, don’t be surprised if people get excited about it.
I’ll leave you with this, from an interview with Iran’s foreign minister, as a little taste of things to come. Until Obama gives Democrats a reason to stick with him on yet another tricky, unpopular position, why would they?
Q: What happens if Congress imposes new sanctions, even if they don’t go into effect for six months?
A: The entire deal is dead. We do not like to negotiate under duress. And if Congress adopts sanctions, it shows lack of seriousness and lack of a desire to achieve a resolution on the part of the United States. I know the domestic complications and various issues inside the United States, but for me that is no justification. I have a parliament. My parliament can also adopt various legislation that can go into effect if negotiations fail. But if we start doing that, I don’t think that we will be getting anywhere. Now we have tried to ask our members of parliament to avoid that. We may not succeed. The U.S. government may not succeed. If we don’t try, then we can’t expect the other side to accept that we are serious about the process.