WASHINGTON — Hours before the annual State of the Union address, a new poll revealed Tuesday that one of the foreign policy achievements that US President Barack Obama is likely to tout – the interim agreement with Iran – may not enjoy broad support among the voting public. According to the study, conducted by the Mellman Group for the Israel Project, while a slim majority of Americans support the deal, a larger number of likely voters wish that sanctions relief had only been granted after Iran dismantles its entire nuclear program.
The poll also indicated that for most Americans, preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a “higher priority than preventing military action,” said pollster Mark Mellman. The American public, he added, was “overwhelmingly negative in terms of how the administration handled Iran,” with 66% of likely voters polled giving the president a negative evaluation on his Iran policy.
The poll offered some good news for Obama, who is expected to deliver a State of the Union address centered around domestic rather than foreign policy issues. Mellman said that the poll showed “that both President Obama and Secretary Kerry are well-liked” – a data point viewed as distinct from a “job approval” evaluation of how well they perform their duties.
The poll surveyed 800 likely voters nationwide, and has a 3.5% margin of error.
Asked about the issues in two separate questions, Mellman emphasized that the likely voters polled “placed a higher priority on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons rather than avoiding military force.”
When asked which is more dangerous for the US – allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons or to carry out targeted military strikes against Iran — 54% answered that allowing Iran to develop nuclear capacity was a greater danger. When asked again about which are most important goals for the US in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, 68% selected “preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons even if it means launching military strikes” in comparison with slightly over 30% who answered avoiding military strikes even if it allows Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.
The interim agreement with Iran, considered by the administration to be a significant foreign policy milestone of Obama’s second term, was greeted by coolly by voters. When offered a description of the agreement, 55% said that they favored it, while 37% said that they opposed it. Among voters who said that they were already familiar with the agreement, opposition to the deal rose by about 10 points.
Despite the moderated support for the agreement, 57% of those polled said that US should have forced Iran to abandon its entire nuclear program before releasing sanctions. Mellman also found that US voters were cynical as to the future of the agreement – only 35% thought it was at all likely that Iran would live up to the agreement.
Americans, Mellman found, overwhelmingly support economic sanctions against Tehran in a bipartisan manner – 83% of Democrats and 89% of Republicans said that they supported the sanctions. Fewer than 20% of respondents said that they wanted the sanctions reduced, while 38% said they wanted to see them strengthened.
Sixty-two percent of those polled said that they supported the demand that Iran dismantle its nuclear infrastructure before receiving any sanctions relief when that position was juxtaposed with the agreement currently in place, in which sanctions are lifted as part of a gradual process.
Mellman found that a full 73% of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Iran – a stark contrast to the 16% of Americans who have an unfavorable view of Israel. Similarly, only 15% of Americans trust Iran to hold up its part of treaty obligations with the United States, while 79% trust Israel’s credibility on the same. The veteran pollster noted that “distrust of Iran cuts across party lines and all other demographic segments that we looked at” and that Americans’ distrust of Iran is second only to their distrust of North Korea, which is trusted by a mere 7% of the population.