Despite what some right-wing critics in the media and Congress would have you believe, Americans support President Obama’s outreach to Iran and Cuba. The New York Times reports, based on a recent poll, that
the public does give Mr. Obama credit for improving the image of the United States with the rest of the world. And it found support for Mr. Obama’s overtures to Iran and Cuba; a majority, 53 percent, said they favored establishing diplomatic relations with Iran, while two-thirds favored Mr. Obama’s plans to thaw relations with Cuba.
If you look at the actual poll questions and responses, the results are even more striking. On Iran, the poll asked:
Do you think the United States should or should not establish diplomatic relations with Iran while Iran has a nuclear program?
and the response was
Yes: 53% No: 37% DK/NA: 10%
Four things are striking about this result. First, “establishing diplomatic relations” goes well beyond what is currently being discussed in Washington so far – right now, we’re just talking about talking. We haven’t even agreed to set up an “interests section” in Tehran that could issue visas to Iranians to visit the United States; we have such an “interests section” in Havana, even though we don’t have diplomatic relations with Cuba. Second, the question asked explicitly “while Iran has a nuclear program.” While it seems virtually certain that Iran will retain some kind of “nuclear program” in any agreement, we all know that at the margin, one can shape answers to a question by what you put in the person’s mind at the time, so one might guess that this might have depressed the “yes” response. Third, U.S. officials during the Bush Administration continually sought to erase the distinction in U.S. political discourse between Iran “having a nuclear program” and Iran “having nuclear weapons” or “pursuing nuclear weapons,” or “having the capacity to produce nuclear weapons.” That history should have contributed to depressing the “yes” response as well. Finally, knowing the result was 53-37 tells you more than merely knowing that 53% were in support. Of those who gave a yes or no response, 59% said yes. On Cuba, the poll asked:
Do you think that the United States should or should not re-establish diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba?
And the response was:
Should: 67% Should not: 20% DK/NA: 10%
Note again that the ask went well beyond what the Obama Administration has done so far, and here the question wasn’t conditioned in any way. And yet more than three-quarters of those who gave a yes/no response said yes. Three out of five said said the U.S. government should permit all Americans – not just Cuban-Americans – to travel to and from Cuba. If you agree, you can say so here.