Assessing the Iran Deal

Thumbnail Image

Publication or External Link





Nancy Gallagher, Ebrahim Mohseni, Clay Ramsay, "Assessing the Iran Deal," CISSM Publication, September 2015.


On July 14, 2015, after two years of negotiations, the United States, the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany, and Iran announced they had reached agreement on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear program. On July 20 the Security Council endorsed the agreement unanimously. Under terms agreed between the U.S. Congress and the White House, Congress has until September 17th to disapprove the JCPOA if it wants to prevent President Obama from suspending U.S. nuclear sanctions after Iran fulfills its nuclear commitments. Thus an intense debate is underway. Advocates on both sides have been making their appeals to the American public at a volume, and with a forcefulness, seen in foreign policy issues only a few times a decade. After the initial rollout of the agreement—a phase in which the White House essentially held the floor—critics of the agreement have been widely heard, both in and out of Congress. Media polls have been sporadic and inconsistent. In polls that offer respondents the opportunity to say that they do not have enough information to say, approximately half take it. In this case, the minority opposing the deal tends to outweigh those favoring it. In some polls that give respondents minimal information about the basic outlines of the deal, majorities have approved of it. Apparently Americans have low levels of information and their responses are affected by minimal inputs. Citizen Cabinet surveys are not meant to simply be another poll. Rather the goal is to find out what a representative panel of registered voters recommends when they are given a briefing and hear arguments for and against the key options. The process they go through is called a ‘policymaking simulation,’ in that the goal is to put the respondent into the shoes of a policymaker. The content of the simulation is vetted with Congressional staffers and other experts to assure accuracy and balance. Earlier Citizen Cabinet surveys on the Iran deal focused on the central debate at the time as to whether the US should make a deal based on allowing Iran limited uranium enrichment with intrusive inspections or if it should seek to ramp up economic sanctions in an effort to get Iran to give up its enrichment program entirely. Arguments for both options were found convincing but in the end, in February, 61% in a national Citizen Cabinet recommended in favor of making the deal. In June Citizen Cabinet surveys in three states (Oklahoma, Maryland, and Virginia) went through the same process but with more detail about the draft agreement. In all states seven in ten recommended the deal over ramping up sanctions. In the current Citizen Cabinet survey the simulation focused much more deeply on the terms of the deal, especially the terms that have been highly criticized by Members of Congress. Panelists were first briefed on the origins of the international dispute over Iran’s nuclear program and the main issues during the negotiations and given a detailed summary of the agreement’s main features. Then panelists evaluated a series of critiques—some general, some quite specific—prominent in the Congressional debate, and assessed a rebuttal offered for each. Panelists then assessed proposals for three alternative courses of action that have been proposed, evaluating arguments for and against each and also assessing each one’s chances of success. Finally panelists were asked what they would recommend to their member of Congress—to approve the deal, or disapprove of it, and, if the latter, what alternative course to take.