Two days ago, I demonstrated how the framing of questions on the right policy vis-à-vis Iran changes the answers given by the American public (see: Is Nuclear Iran a ‘Weak Spot’ for Obama With the American Public?). When three options are presented – war-attack, diplomacy-sanctions, do nothing and avoid conflict – the public tend to choose option number two. When two options are presented, a tough one and one that is more conciliatory, the public goes for toughness. Yesterday, a new survey by PEW demonstrated yet again how it works. The PEW pollsters presented only two options, “firm stand” and “avoid military conflict” and the choice was clear:
Among those who are aware of the recent tensions between the U.S. and Iran over Iran’s nuclear program and disputes in the Persian Gulf, a majority say that it is more important to take a firm stand against Iranian actions (54%) than to avoid a military conflict with Iran (39%). More than seven-in-ten Republicans (72%) say taking a firm stand is more important, as do a smaller majority (52%) of independents. Democrats are more evenly split: 45% say taking a firm stand, 47% say avoiding a military conflict. This reflects a division of opinion within Democrats; while 52% of conservative and moderate Democrats say taking a firm stand is more important, that falls to 36% among liberal Democrats.
Interestingly, another poll, by Rasmussen, demonstrates how the mere mention of sanctions – even if not as an option that stands in contrast to military action – reduces the number of Americans that are ready for a violent confrontation with Iran. The Rasmussen poll first asked if the public believes that sanctions are likely to succeed (most said they are not likely to succeed), and only then presented the question on military action: “Suppose that diplomatic efforts fail to prevent Iran from continuing to develop its nuclear capabilities. Should the United States use military force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons?” The result: 35% said yes, 38% said no, and 27% were not sure.
Both the Rasmussen poll and the PEW poll showed that Americans now see Iran as a serious threat to American security. But the conclusion is quite different. Why? The PEW survey focused on those people who heard a lot, or a little, about Iran: those following the news want a firmer policy. And what happens with those 20% who do not much follow the news? You cant find them all in the “not sure” camp at the Rasmussen poll.