Updated, June 29:
J Street, in the midst of a multi-million dollar campaign to support the Iran nuclear deal, has just released the results of its poll claiming to show that "a large majority of Jews support the agreement recently reached between the United States, world powers, and Iran." Yet at the same time, a poll on behalf of The Israel Project claims to show the opposite.
What is the source of such disparity in the results?
While the political affiliations of respondents seems to be very similar in both the J Street and the Israel Project polls, their knowledge about the Iran deal sharply differs.
J Street Poll: To begin with, 68% of respondents had heard some information to nothing at all about the deal, while only 32% claimed to have heard a great deal about it. Respondents were then provided with a single positive assessment of the deal before being asked an either or question: whether they support or oppose the agreement.
Israel Project Poll: To begin with, 57% of respondents had seen, read or heard some information to nothing at all about the deal, while 42% had been exposed to a lot of information about it i.e. 10 per cent more Israel Project respondents than J Street respondents already knew a fair bit about the deal. Respondents were then provided with both a positive and a negative assessment of the deal before being asked to choose which assessment they agreed with more.
Additional questions introducing more context had respondents consider the agreement's pros, as described by supporters, and its cons, as described by opponents, before being asked to choose which assessment they agreed with more.
Comparison of J Street and Israel Project poll questions and results
The largely uninformed respondents were provided with the following positive, if somewhat misleading, assessment of the deal, before being asked whether they support or oppose it.
As you may know, the U.S. and other countries have announced a deal to lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran agreeing not to produce nuclear weapons. International inspectors would monitor Iran's facilities, and if Iran is caught breaking the agreement economic sanctions would be imposed again.
Critics have pointed out that under the deal: a) international inspectors could not monitor anywhere at anytime but would be monitoring only those nuclear facilities declared by Iran, which could not prevent cheating at its undeclared military facilities. They also contend that the time frame to resolve disputes over site access gives Iran significant time to cheat; b) economic sanctions could only be re-imposed "in the event of significant non-performance" but would leave no consequences for incremental cheating. But the J Street poll only presented respondents with one side of the debate and did not provide any of the arguments against the deal before asking respondents which side they support.
The pollsters continued with the following information, before respondents were asked another somewhat misleading question that oversimplified the purpose of a congressional vote:
As you may know, Congress will vote on whether to approve or disapprove the agreement reached between the United States, Britain, Germany, France, China, Russia, and Iran. Do you want your Member of Congress to vote to approve or disapprove the agreement?
The implication is that Congress is being asked to endorse an agreement negotiated by the US and the five other countries with Iran. But, in fact, that was already done by the United Nationas Security Council, where members voted on a resolution introduced by the Obama administration to endorse the Iran nuclear deal. Much to the consternation of many Congressmen, President Obama asked for the UN Security Council vote before bringing the agreement to Congress for review and debate. Following the positive UN vote, US congressman are now being asked to vote on whether to lift US sanctions on Iran under the deal.
60% of respondents said they supported the deal: 18% strongly and 42% just somewhat, while 40% opposed the deal: 24% strongly and 16% just somewhat.
60% of respondents said they want their Member of Congress to approve the deal, while 40% said they want their Member of Congress to disapprove the deal.
Here, a more accurately formulated question about whether Congress should vote to approve or reject the lifting of sanctions was posed first, before additional context was given about the deal. The question:
Now that an agreement with Iran has been reached between the negotiators, the US Congress will be given 60 days to review the deal and vote whether or not to lift US sanctions on Iran under this deal. In your opinion, do you think that Congress should vote to approve the deal and lift sanctions on Iran or to reject the deal and NOT lift sanctions on Iran?
Respondents were then exposed to the following differing assessments of the deal, one supportive and one opposing it, before being asked which viewpoint they agreed with more, even if neither is exactly right:
1) Some/Other people say that the deal with Iran is good progress and will limit Iran's nuclear program.
2) Some/Other people say that the deal with Iran is not tough enough and will eventually lead to the Iranians getting a nuclear weapon.
Finally, respondents were asked to weigh the specific merits of the agreement, as put forth by the White House, against its specific drawbacks, as put forth by critics of the deal and were asked which perspective they agreed with more.
Before context was given, when asked whether or not Members of Congress should vote to lift sanctions, 45% of respondents answered no, compared to 40% who answered yes.
When asked which assessment of the deal they agreed with more, 56% of respondents agreed more with the negative assessment vs. 33% who agreed more with the positive assessment of the deal.
And when asked to weigh the specific merits of the deal against its specific drawbacks, far greater numbers of respondents agreed more with specific criticisms of the deal expressed by opponents than than with the specific benefits of the deal put forth by the White House.
A comparison of these two very recent polls about American Jews' attitudes toward the Iran deal seems to indicate that the vaguer the knowledge is about the Iran deal, the more support there is for it, while the more people are aware of the specifics of the deal, the more they are opposed to it.