The politics of the Iran nuclear deal are fascinating, messy, and confusing

Lindsey grahamKevin HagenSen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and former Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., right, listen as Republican presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks

World powers’ nuclear agreement with Iran is quickly becoming one of the most talked-about issues on the campaign trail.

Over the weekend, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) said that with the deal, President Barack Obama would “take Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

And last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said that the deal could lead to a possible attack on New York City.

The Republican field is unified in its opposition to the deal, while Democrats have somewhat tentatively embraced it as the best-worst option to avoid another military entanglement in the Middle East.

But while conservatives continue to ratchet up their rhetoric against the deal and Democrats continue to defend it, it’s unclear what will constitute a smart electoral move in the long run.

On one hand, most Americans remain extremely wary of Iran, and generally consider the nation to be the greatest threat to US national security behind the Islamic State group (also known as ISIS and ISIL) and international terrorism.

According to a Gallup poll taken earlier this year, 77% of Americans said that the development of nuclear weapons by Iran was a “critical threat” to the interests of the United States.

That’s an overwhelming number: for reference, a Gallup poll taken in May showed that only 37% of Americans believe that global warming is a serious threat, and only 49% felt that Russia’s military power is a critical threat.

Americans also aren’t opposed to striking Iran, if necessary. According to a recent poll from the Economist and YouGov, 63% of Americans said that they support preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, even if it means taking military action to accomplish.

Obama Iran dealAPPresident Barack Obama looks over his notes as he answers questions about the Iran nuclear deal during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 15, 2015.

But despite fear and scepticism of Iran, the majority of the country has sometimes signalled that it supports Obama’s attempt at diplomacy as a solution. A Pew Research Center survey last week showed a plurality opposes the agreement.

But the same Economist/YouGov poll found that although 64% of Americans don’t trust Iran, 51% support the agreement, and only 33% opposed.

Those findings are similar to a poll from Public Policy Polling released on Monday that found that 54% of Americans want their representatives to vote to move the deal forward. (That poll was conducted on behalf of the progressive group Americans United for Change.) And according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week, 56% said they support the deal.

These aren’t necessarily contradictory opinions.

Even if the polling suggests that Americans support military action against Iran, the wording of the question leaves some wiggle room. When YouGov asked about taking military action against Iran, the only other alternatives the pollsters posited were “unsure” or allowing Iran to get a nuclear weapon while avoiding military action. The poll questions also didn’t broach the possibility of an extended ground war or the uncertainty of whether striking Iran would deter the country from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The Iran deal is also extremely complex. And as the YouGov poll illustrates, only 18% of Americans reported that they’re “very closely” paying attention to the deal.

But at this point, Republicans likely don’t have much to lose from opposing the deal. According to the Pew Research survey, 75% of Republicans oppose the deal, suggesting a feeling of intensity on the issue.

And according to PPP, the general population as a whole doesn’t consider it a make-or-break issue. Only 36% of voters said that they’d be less likely to vote for their representative in Congress if they don’t support the Iran deal.

Despite concern about threats from Iran, keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb isn’t high on Americans list of voter priorities. Americans still rate foreign-policy and national-security issues far lower than general economic issues, unemployment, illegal immigration, race relations, and income inequality, among other issues.

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