Never underestimate the Democratic messaging machine, my friends.
Many Americans haven’t noticed the story yet, according to a new survey conducted by YouGov from 10-11 March. 41% said they had heard nothing at all about “a letter written by a group of Republican lawmakers warning the leaders of Iran that any agreement they make with President Obama will only be an ‘executive agreement’ that could be revoked unless it gets congressional approval.”
Yet when asked whether writing such a letter was appropriate, 42% say it was not, compared to only 28% who say it was. 31% are undecided.
That’s a lot of people who haven’t heard about the letter yet. Could that explain the partisan tilt here? If, for instance, it turns out that many more liberals have heard about the letter than conservatives — which isn’t implausible given that the outrage is being driven by Obama and lefty media — then yeah, go figure that overall opinion might lean against the GOP. When you look at the actual numbers, though, that effect seems minor: 27 percent of Democrats say they’ve heard a lot about the letter versus 24 percent of independents and 21 percent of Republicans. Dems are overrepresented but not so much to explain a 14-point gap on the “inappropriate” question. Also, if you include people who’ve heard “a little” about the letter, GOPers actually outnumber Dems — 66 percent to 63. This isn’t a pure partisan phenomenon.
Speaking of which, here’s how the parties shake out on whether the deal was appropriate. Top line is yes, second line is no, third is not sure:
Independents tilt mildly towards “inappropriate” but the real action here is in the unusual partisan asymmetry. Democrats split 11/71 but Republicans split just 53/10. How come? I think it’s a combo of conservatives favoring a strong presidency with a basically free hand on foreign policy (their personal antipathy to Obama aside) and the unhappy optics of Republican senators attempting to communicate with the Iranian leadership for whatever reason. That’s not really what the letter did; it was a de facto op-ed about Congress’s constitutional prerogatives aimed more at the White House (as Rand Paul acknowledged) than at Iran, but framing it as a letter to the mullahs may not sit right with righties. Karol Markowicz, writing in the Federalist, says:
Second, we should not be sending letters to Iran, on any topic, at any time. Last November, Obama allegedly sent a secret letter asking the Ayatollah Khamenei to join us in fighting the Islamic State. And this isn’t the first time Obama has corresponded with Iran. He also sent a letter to Iran in 2009 seeking better ties. For clarity, we’re asking for better ties with a country that kills gay people by pushing them off roofs, imprisons journalists, and murders political opponents. Letters to Iran, by either party, do nothing but legitimize the backward leadership of that country. If our leadership wants to speak to Iran, it should address the Iranian people directly. This is a country held hostage by the mullahs, while we’re the leaders of the free world. Let’s act like we’ve noticed.
Addressing Iran’s leaders indirectly legitimizes them, which is anathema to righty hawks. In fact, Ron Johnson told reporters from Bloomberg this morning that framing the letter as a letter to Iran rather than to the White House is his only regret about signing it.
There may be one other reason for the results on “inappropriateness”: When push comes to shove, a plurality of Americans who’ve heard about Obama’s looming nuke deal with Iran support it. Not one in 100 of them could recite the basic details, I’d bet, but that’s also true of things like ObamaCare. Whether they’re in favor of the actual deal or whatever hazy notion they have about what the deal says, they’re in favor, splitting 36/17 towards support with 11 percent saying “not sure” and another 36 percent saying they don’t know enough to form an opinion yet. The partisan numbers are better for Dems than you might think too. Top line is support for the deal, second is opposition, third is not sure:
Republicans are split 29/30? That’ll change for sure once the deal is done and conservative media really lays into it, but it’s already received wisdom on the right that any agreement with Iran that has Obama’s signature on it will be an atrocious sellout. Tom Cotton’s letter, co-signed by 46 GOP colleagues, lends the party’s imprimatur to that suspicion. And still — just 29/30 among Republican voters. Either GOPers are more comfortable with the terms of the deal than their leadership or they’re war-weary and willing to accept a bargain to punt the risk of conflict a few more years into the future.
As for the rest of the public, like I said, never underestimate the Democratic messaging machine. Here’s what three weeks of White House/media whining about Bibi Netanyahu’s speech did to his support in the U.S.:
Fifteen points in less than a month, huh? Damn, that’s impressive lockstep.