But a trio of surveys last month contained a surprising combined result: When voters from politically divergent states of Oklahoma (very red), Virginia (swing) and Maryland (very blue) are given the same information about the Iran deal, the vast majority in each state support the same position.
More than seven in 10 registered voters in each state said the U.S. should pursue a deal allowing Iran to enrich some uranium, according to the surveys by the non-partisan Program on Public Consultation (PPC). A quarter or fewer supported increasing sanctions to push Iran to end its program entirely. Even within each state, clear majorities of Republicans and Democrats came down in favor of a deal allowing Iran to have a peaceful nuclear program rather than demanding a complete end to nuclear enrichment.
Rather than a traditional poll in which respondents are asked a relatively short question on which position they take, the aim of this survey was to give respondents the same type of information and arguments that lawmakers consume and see how they resolve the issue. The results represent a form of considered or informed opinion rather than top-of-mind reactions, and past PPC surveys found less partisan divisions on controversial issues.
Support for a deal in each state is similar to the 61 percent found in a similar national version of the survey conducted in February, before the debate surrounding a draft framework and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's congressional speech criticizing the deal.
Any poll showing partisan unity on a hotly debated issue like this deserves a dose of skepticism, of course. What kind of briefing did respondents read? And what arguments did they hear in favor or opposition to each side?
The first part of the poll asked about awareness that Iran had agreed to not develop nuclear weapons under the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty -- which only about half of respondents knew about. The second provided a two-page description of Iran's uranium enrichment program, including international responses to Iran's building of a secret enrichment facility, sanctions against the country and the April framework negotiated by the U.S., Germany and members of the U.N. Security Council. Respondents were told the "major two options being considered were" the following:
After giving an initial rating of acceptability for each approach, respondents read three detailed arguments for and agains" a deal, as well as increased sanctions, rating each on how convincing it was. For example, more than seven in 10 in the three states said the argument that "getting Iran to limit its enrichment is the only reasonable goal" was a convincing argument in support of a deal. Among arguments against a deal, more than six in 10 said an argument that said "we need to set an example and make it clear that countries that defy the international system will eventually regret it" was convincing. Majorities found each argument for and against a deal to be at least "somewhat convincing," but even-larger majorities said this of arguments in favor of a deal.
In the end, respondents were asked for their final recommendation, and No. 1 won convincingly across all three states.
Researchers said briefings and arguments were "vetted and refined with congressional staffers (Republican and Democratic) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, as well as several outside experts." The full questionnaire with briefing and arguments can be found here if you're curious.
The results in Oklahoma were illustrative; 73 percent of voters preferred making a deal with Iran allowing limited enrichment, while 25 percent favored increased sanctions to get Iran to give up all enrichment. Democrats were 26 points more supportive, but Republicans and independents still preferred a deal over ramped-up sanctions by a wide margin. This pattern was similar in both Virginia Maryland.
Reactions to an actual Iran deal, of course, might not be as politically unifying as among respondents in the PPC poll. Voters will likely see leaders of each party supporting or criticizing the deal, reinforcing partisan tendencies. Traditional polls asking a single question provide a hint of what this might look like, finding somewhat lower support than in the policy briefing setting, and with larger partisan divides.
An April CNN poll providing a general description of the framework found 53 percent supporting the deal, with 67 percent of Democrats in favor and 60 percent of Republicans opposed. A Suffolk/USA Today poll asking a simpler question and referencing Obama directly found 46 percent approving and 37 percent disapproving of the deal, with more than seven in 10 Democrats approving and two-thirds of Republicans opposed.
But regardless of those realities, the fact that Americans of very different backgrounds gravitate toward the same solution when reading bipartisanly vetted information on the issue suggests the public is supportive of the broad strategy of a compromise deal.
Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.
The surveys were conducted online from February 17-June 12 by the Program for Public Consultation of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. Respondents were selected from two Internet panels which were initially recruited through traditional probability sampling by phone and mail - one panel maintained by the PPC, and another by Scarborough Research. Results in Virginia are based on 513 interviews and carry a margin of sampling error of 4.4 percentage points; in Maryland 626 interviews were conducted with an error margin of 4.5 points, and in Oklahoma 615 respondents were interviewed with an error margin of 4.5 points. Three-quarters of state survey respondents completed the poll after the early-April framework was announced and read a more detailed description with primary terms of the draft agreement, though PPC's report says this did not impact final recommendations.