Polls of U.S. Jews on Iran deal disagree, so which to believe?

Uriel Heilman

An Iranian police helicopter passes by portraits of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, and the former Ayatollah Khomeini, in Tehran, Iran, June 4, 2015. (John Moore/Getty Images)

An Iranian police helicopter passes by portraits of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, and the former Ayatollah Khomeini, in Tehran, Iran, June 4, 2015. (John Moore/Getty Images)

There have been three major polls of American Jews since the announcement of the nuclear deal between world powers and Iran — by the L.A. Jewish Journal, The Israel Project and J Street — all with significantly different results.

The weekly L.A. Jewish Journal found that about 48 percent of American Jews back the deal; The Israel project, a pro -Israel advocacy group, found a slightly lower 44 percent, and J Street, a liberal advocacy group, discovered a whopping 60-percent rate of support. The findings about opposition to the deal varied even more widely.

To separate the wheat from the chaff, take a look at how the questions were asked, how the surveyors reached respondents and when the polls were conducted.



L.A. Jewish Journal: “As you may know, an agreement was reached in which the United States and other countries would lift major economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons.”

Support the deal: 47.8%

Oppose the deal: 27.6%

Don’t know: 24.6%

The Israel Project: “Recently, the United States and five other countries (known as the P5+1) reached an agreement with Iran regarding the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for concessions in Iran’s nuclear program. Based on what you know, do you approve or disapprove of this agreement?

Approve: 44%

Disapprove: 47%

Don’t know/no opinion: 9%

J Street: “As you may know, the U.S. and other countries have announced a deal to lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran agreeing not to produce nuclear weapons. International inspectors would monitor Iran’s facilities, and if Iran is caught breaking the agreement economic sanctions would be imposed again. Do you support or oppose this agreement?”

Support: 60%

Oppose: 40%

The J Street question adds a second line (“International inspectors …”) that offers more detail on the deal and could be interpreted as bolstering the argument in favor of it. Additionally, pollsters do not appear to have offered “don’t know” as an option – something The Israel Project’s pollster, Nathan Klein, argues likely muddied the true outcome in favor of the deal, since respondents tend to trust the government on complicated foreign policy questions.

The Israel Project’s question, which suggests that Iran agreed only to “concessions” on its nuclear program, rather than agreement not to produce nuclear weapons, could be interpreted as bolstering the argument against the deal.

The Jewish Journal’s question appears the most neutral of the three.

READ: Jewish groups stake out positions on Iran deal, but whom do they represent?


L.A. Jewish Journal: The polling research firm SSRS Omnibus conducts national, weekly telephone surveys on a variety of subjects, gathering data of all kinds. For the Jewish Journal’s survey, SSRS called only respondents in their database who had identified themselves as Jewish in previous unrelated surveys. Demographer Steven M. Cohen of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who does all kinds of Jewish community surveys, designed the questions. In all, 501 Jews were interviewed. The Jewish Journal used a similar methodology to survey non-Jewish Americans’ opinions on the deal (I won’t get into that here). The margin of error on the Jewish survey was 6 percent.

The Israel Project: The online survey was conducted by Olive Tree Strategies, run by pollster Nathan Klein, who has done polling for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Mitt Romney presidential campaign and has served as director of research and messaging at The Israel Project. Klein told me the online survey was administered by a third-party company, which used previous online surveys it conducted to identify self-identified Jews in its database. Jewish respondents were sent an email blast with a link to The Israel Project’s online survey, whose questions were written by Klein. Only those who affirmed their religion as Jewish were able to complete the survey. In all, there were 1,034 respondents. The margin of error was 3 percent.

J Street: The survey questions were designed by Jim Gerstein of GBA Strategies, a public opinion research firm that works for Democratic candidates. Like The Israel Project pollster, GBA contracted with a third party – in this case, Mountain West Research Center — to administer the online survey by email invitation. The survey included Jews who said their religion was Jewish or who said they consider themselves Jewish. In all, 1,000 respondents completed the survey. The margin of error was 3.1 percent.

Both The Israel Project and J Street surveys were carried out by partisans, but that doesn’t necessarily impugn the data. The Jewish Journal survey only had about half the number of respondents as the other two surveys. While the methodology of online surveys (like those done by J Street and The Israel Project) differs somewhat from that of telephone surveys — online respondents choose to respond to email solicitations with survey links, while phone respondents must take the time to respond to phone surveyors — it’s not clear how that would result in different outcomes for these polls.


Jewish Journal: July 16-20.

The Israel Project: July 21-26.

J Street: July 21-23.

Opinions on the deal are somewhat fluid, shifting as details — and commentary — proliferate.

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