WASHINGTON — Americans show unprecedentedly strong support for an increased and steadfast sanctions regime against Iran, a poll revealed Wednesday as the Obama administration continued to campaign hard to avert new Senate sanctions legislation.

The poll, conducted by Frank Luntz for the Tower, a publication run by The Israel Project, revealed that 77% of likely American voters believe that further sanctions are the best way to pressure Iran regarding its nuclear program.

With Secretary of State John Kerry poised to defend the administration’s Iran policy before the Senate on Thursday, the poll offered a warning light to senators who may be inclined to listen to the administration’s calls to hold off on sanctions. Over three-quarters of voters – 77% of Democrats and 96% of Republicans said that they would favor a senatorial candidate who supports additional sanctions legislation.

And, accordingly, a bipartisan senate effort for more sanctions continues.

Although one key senator said that his committee would not consider such legislation until 2014, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), who have spearheaded sanctions legislation, have yet to publicly call it quits. This latest poll indicates that Menendez and Kirk — and not the administration — are more in line with voters’ opinions.

Luntz, a longtime pollster, said that in over two decades of experience, he had never before encountered such near-unanimity of opinion among voters across disparate demographic breakdowns, including age, region and political affiliation.

“The fear of Iranian nuclear weapons unites just about everyone,” Luntz explained, noting that many Americans do not fear an Iranian nuclear attack, but that Iran might give nuclear weapons to a third party.
A dominant plurality of Americans polled (49%) believe that Iran represents “the greatest threat to the United States.”

The overall American distrust evident toward Iran’s intentions translates into deep insecurity regarding the terms of any potential nuclear deal.

During Kerry’s pitch to the House of Representatives on Tuesday, congressmen grilled him over the future of Iranian enrichment, and how it would feature in any final-status agreement with Tehran. Kerry acknowledged that the final deal could lead to enrichment under “mutually agreed parameters.” That position seems to be unpopular with the Americans polled, 86% of whom believe that a final agreement should bar all enrichment.

The same percentage of Americans, however, also do not believe that Iran will uphold its side of any final agreement, and 84% believe that the Iranians are merely using the current negotiations “to stall as they continue to develop their ability to make nuclear weapons.”

With public support clearly behind a hawkish Iran policy, Republican lawmakers are likely to step up pressure on the administration — and on the Democratic leadership of the Senate — to move forward with additional economic measures. The Republican-controlled House passed its version of a new sanctions bill in July with strong Democratic support.

Even before the Tower poll was released, the Executive Director of the Republican Jewish Committee issued a statement complaining that “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson are preventing the Senate from considering legislation to impose stronger sanctions on Iran.”

The Republican spin sought to cast the campaign for sanctions in a more partisan light, blaming the Senate’s Democrats for the delay, while largely ignoring that Menendez, a Democrat, has taken on the administration and been among the most vocal proponents of additional sanctions.