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How Hawks Are Manipulating Polling On Iran

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"How Hawks Are Manipulating Polling On Iran"

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Iran's heavy water nuclear facilities near Arak

Iran’s heavy water nuclear facilities near Arak

CREDIT: AP/ISNA,Hamid Foroutan

A polling expert from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs said this week that a recent poll commissioned by the Israel Project (TIP) — which found majority support for a new Iran sanctions bill currently languishing in the Senate — is not neutral and the results on the sanctions bill question should not be considered credible.

TIP released the poll on Tuesday, promoting its finding of “broad, bipartisan support for increased sanctions” on Iran (the Senate’s Iran sanctions bill is currently “on ice,” as most Democrats and at least one Republican have said it should not come to the floor for a vote at this time).

When the poll asked a general question about whether sanctions on Iran should be strengthened, a majority of respondents (52 percent) said that the U.S. should either reduce sanctions or keep them at current levels — a position that lines up with the White House and its allies on this issue. Just 39 percent said they should be “strengthened” as the current bill before the Senate seeks to do. Moreover, the poll also found that a majority (55 percent) support the interim nuclear agreement reached in Geneva last November.

But once the poll moved into asking respondents about whether they support, specifically, the Senate’s Iran sanctions bill, the survey “ceased being neutral,” as pollster Dina Smeltz of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs wrote this week. Respondents were “asked a heavily loaded question that results in majority support for the congressional legislation,” Smeltz said. Here’s the question, with Smeltz’s bolding:

Just so we are on the same page, there is legislation in the Senate sponsored by 59 Senators from both parties that would trigger new sanctions on Iran if they cheat on the terms of the current interim agreement, fail to negotiate a final deal to eliminate their ability to make nuclear weapons, or if they are found to be involved in a terrorist act against the United States during nuclear talks. Do you favor or oppose this legislation? [IF FAVOR/OPPOSE] Do you feel that way strongly or not so strongly?

Nearly 80 percent favored, with 64 percent feeling strongly about it. The poll then runs through a list of possible outcomes should Iran acquire a nuclear weapon — such as “Iran could use nuclear weapons to attack American troops in the Middle-East,” could “launch a nuclear attack on the United States by 2015,” and “could launch nuclear weapons against Israel, our closest ally in the region” — and then comes back to the sanctions bill question.

“Respondents were shown two statements, one encapsulating points that have been made by the bill’s supporters and the other by the bill’s opponents,” Smeltz writes. “After reading these paragraphs, 63 percent said they favored the legislation, and 28 percent opposed them. While both paragraphs use some biased language, the one in support of the bill has a few more lively phrases.”

Smeltz notes that Americans are indeed distrustful of Iran, skeptical about its intentions and wary of President Obama’s handling of the issue, all conclusions the TIP poll reached. But, she added, “once respondents are given information to try to persuade them to change their views one way or another – repeatedly – the survey no longer represents a credible reading of public opinion.

“Unfortunately biased questions contaminate all the results that follow. The type of survey questionnaire employed for the Israel project is very useful for message testing for a candidate or policy campaign, but these results that focus on the sanctions bill should not be mistaken for an accurate sounding of public opinion.” [HT: Marc Lynch]

Update

This isn’t the first poll commissioned by the Israel Project that misrepresents Americans’ views on Iran. The group released a survey in December conducted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz that purported to find that Americans support more sanctions. But as this blog reported at the time, the poll offered “an unrealistic menu of choices and fail[ed] to inform respondents that more sanctions now would likely end negotiations with Iran.”

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