Poll: More Republicans want to stick with the Iran nuclear deal than withdraw from it

I wonder, do they know that Iran’s supreme leader is talking ridiculous smack about Trump lately? This conflict may not go nuclear in the real world anytime soon but we’re headed for a full nuclear release on Twitter imminently.

“The nuclear deal is to their benefit”, Khamenei said.

Khamenei also said of Mr. Trump: “I will not spend time to respond to the nonsensical comments by the foul-mouthed president.” He also referred to Mr. Trump and his administration as being “mentally retarded.”

It starts with the R-bomb, then Trump drops a rhetorical MOAB by tweeting that Khamenei’s a “loser” who’s “failing very badly,” and suddenly we’re in a hot social media war. Bye bye, nuclear deal.

For the moment, though, Republicans are very narrowly in favor of sticking with it, per CNN:

Three possible replies to that:

1. “FAKE NEWS!” It’s a CNN poll, isn’t it? What more do you need to know? Okay, but this isn’t the first poll this year to show Republicans in favor of hanging onto the Iran nuclear deal. A Morning Consult poll conducted in April found 53 percent supported the deal at the time. Which stands to reason: The Trump administration had just certified that Iran was still in compliance with the terms. The Trump seal of (reluctant) approval was enough to bring some GOP skeptics of the deal around. Six months later, with Trump having now decertified the deal, the share of Republicans in favor has dipped — but is still in plurality territory.

2. “The question is worded vaguely.” Here’s the precise question asked by CNN’s pollster, SSRS:

As you may know, the United States and five other countries entered an agreement with Iran aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Do you think the U.S. should or should not withdraw from that agreement?

That’s about as neutrally, and simplistically, as you could phrase a question about the Iran deal. There’s nothing in there about Iran proceeding with its missile program, nothing in there about Obama having front-loaded the financial benefits to the regime for signing the deal, nothing about whether we should stick by a bargain with a government that continues to fund terrorist activity whether or not it’s technically in compliance with its nuclear obligations. There’s also no middle-ground option offered, like continuing to withhold sanctions under the deal but passing new sanctions targeting specific Iranian actors, like the Revolutionary Guard. Remember, Trump *hasn’t* “withdrawn” from the deal, he merely decertified it and asked Congress to decide what to do next. His own approach is a middle-ground approach. Yet SSRS’s question demands a blunt up-or-down vote with no mention of the deal’s nuances or defects.

The thing is, though, that’s probably how most Americans grasp the subject. We have an agreement in place with Iran about their nuclear program; Obama signed it and Trump certified that Iran was in compliance twice. Up or down: Stick with it or no? You may dislike that most voters have no handle on the agreement’s nuances but that ain’t SSRS’s problem.

3. “It’s pure status-quo bias, having little to do with the actual merits of the deal.” I think that’s largely right and it ties into number two above. With North Korea an urgent crisis, with the GOP jammed up in Congress, with Trump’s base focused on jobs, why pick a fight with Iran right now by withdrawing from the deal? Obama kicked the can on Iran’s nuclear program by agreeing to lift sanctions in return for a temporary reduction in enrichment, so let’s not go chasing after that can just yet. You see the same thought process at work among the general public, I think, in polls on replacing ObamaCare and withdrawing from the Paris climate change treaty (which, it should be noted, most Republicans do support withdrawing from). Once a major new policy is in place, voters get anxious about upsetting the apple cart — especially when, as in the case of health care, the GOP’s alternative isn’t appealing on its own merits. We’re likely seeing the same impulse at work among GOP voters in this Iran poll. POTUS has a lot on his plate, especially in the nuclear realm thanks to North Korea. No need to toss anything new on there if we can hold it off for awhile.

One more thing. Public views of the government’s competence are heavily influenced by partisanship. Republicans who understandably worried about Obama’s willingness to enforce the nuclear deal if Iran was caught cheating have far fewer concerns with Trump now in charge. Democrats will remain behind the deal full force because O’s fingerprints are all over it but it makes sense that more Republicans have warmed up to it now that their guy is in the White House overseeing it. They trust that Trump will hold Iran to account where Obama wouldn’t. The deal is less of a risk, so support shoots up even on the right.