Ahead of a March 31 deadline for nuclear talks with Iran, more Americans approve (49%) than disapprove (40%) of the United States negotiating directly with Iran over its nuclear program. But the public remains skeptical of whether Iranian leaders are serious about addressing international concerns over their nuclear enrichment program.
If a nuclear agreement is reached, most Americans (62%) want Congress to have final authority over the deal. Just 29% say President Obama should have final authority over any nuclear agreement with Iran.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted March 25-29 among 1,500 adults, finds that just 27% have heard a lot about the nuclear talks between the United States and Iran in Lausanne, Switzerland. Another 49% have heard a little about the negotiations, while 24% have heard nothing at all.
Among those who have heard at least a little about the nuclear talks (76% of the public), 63% say Iranian leaders are not serious “about addressing international concerns about their country’s nuclear enrichment program.” Just 27% say Iranian leaders are seriously addressing international concerns. These views are virtually unchanged since December 2013, when 62% of those aware of the negotiations said Iranian leaders were not serious in responding to concerns about the country’s nuclear program.
The new survey finds little change in the public’s sympathies in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, or in views of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. About a third of Americans (31%) say they sympathize with Israel a lot in its dispute with the Palestinians, while 34% say they sympathize with Israel some. Just 11% sympathize a great deal with the Palestinians, and 35% have some sympathy for the Palestinians. These views have not changed much since last August.
And opinions about Benjamin Netanyahu have changed only modestly since before his address to Congress and re-election as Israel’s prime minister. Currently, 31% express a favorable opinion of Netanyahu, while 28% view him unfavorably. A month ago, 38% viewed Netanyahu favorably and 27% unfavorably. A relatively large percentage (41%) continues to say they have not heard of Netanyahu or have no opinion of him.
Views of Iran Negotiations, Iranian Leaders’ Seriousness
There are deep ideological divisions in views of U.S. negotiations with Iran: 72% of liberal Democrats approve of the negotiations, while 62% of conservative Republicans disapprove of them.
Both parties are internally divided over direct negotiations with Iran. Liberal Democrats are 16 points more likely than conservative and moderate Democrats to approve of the talks (72% vs. 56%). Conservative Republicans are 15 points more likely than moderate and liberal Republicans to oppose the negotiations (62% vs. 47%).
Adults who have at least a college degree generally approve of the negotiations (59% approve vs. 32% disapprove). Among those with less education, opinion is divided with about as many saying they approve as disapprove of the negotiations.
Among those who have heard a lot or a little about the U.S.-Iran negotiations, 53% approve of the talks while 40% disapprove. Among the nearly quarter of Americans (24%) who have heard nothing about them, opinion is divided: 36% approve, 41% disapprove, while 23% do not express an opinion.
The public continues to have doubts about whether Iranian leaders are serious in addressing concerns about the country’s nuclear intentions. Among those who have heard at least a little about the situation, 63% say Iranian leaders are not serious about addressing international concerns, compared with 27% who say they are. These opinions have not changed significantly since late 2013.
Republicans remain more skeptical than Democrats about the seriousness of Iranian leaders. Fully 80% of Republicans who have heard at least a little about the negotiations say Iranian leaders are not serious about addressing international concerns over the country’s nuclear program. A majority of independents (64%) and only about half of Democrats (48%) say Iranian leaders are not serious about addressing these concerns (based on those who have heard at least a little about U.S.-Iran negotiations).
Opinions about the U.S. negotiating directly with Iran differ significantly by whether or not Iranian leaders are viewed as serious in addressing international concerns over their nuclear program.
Overall, 66% of those who are following the situation and think Iranian leaders are serious about addressing international concerns over the nuclear program approve of direct negotiations between the U.S. and Iran. Among those who say Iranian leaders are not serious, 42% approve of negotiations compared with 50% who disapprove.
Most Say Congress Should Have Final Authority Over Nuclear Deal
By a wide margin, more say Congress (62%) than President Obama (29%) should have the final authority for approving any nuclear agreement between the U.S. and Iran. Republicans are about twice as likely than Democrats to say that Congress should have final say over the agreement (83% vs. 42%).
In prior instances when the question of congressional approval of military force was being considered, majorities also wanted final approval to rest with the Congress. In September 2013, for example, 61% said that Congress should have final authority in deciding whether the U.S. should conduct military strikes against Syria, while just 30% said Obama should have this authority.
And during the buildup to the war in Iraq in October 2002, 54% said Congress, not former President George W. Bush, should have final approval over whether the U.S. should invade Iraq with ground forces. During the Clinton administration, 64% favored Congress having final approval over sending U.S. ground troops to what was then Yugoslavia.
In general, members of the party that does not control the White House are more supportive than the president’s party of Congress having final authority in important foreign policy decisions. Independents consistently favor Congress having final authority regardless of the political balance of power in Washington. Currently, 67% of independents say Congress should have final authority for approving any nuclear agreement with Iran, compared with 24% who favor President Obama having final authority.
Sympathy for Israel Unchanged
In the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, the public remains more sympathetic to Israel. Sentiment for both sides is mostly unchanged since last August.
About three-in-ten (31%) say they have “a lot” of sympathy for Israel. An additional 34% have some sympathy; 11% have “not much” sympathy and 18% sympathize with Israel “not at all.” The share saying they have no sympathy at all for Israel in the dispute has risen six points since August (12%).
Sympathy for Israel still outpaces that for the Palestinians: Just 11% sympathize a lot with the Palestinians, 35% have some sympathy, 17% not much and 29% have no sympathy at all.
About half of Republicans (51%) sympathize a lot with Israel in the dispute today, 28% sympathize some and 17% not much or not at all. Just 6% of Republicans sympathize a lot with the Palestinians, while 27% have some sympathy and 60% have not much or no sympathy.
Conservative Republicans are especially sympathetic toward Israel (62% a lot), compared with 33% of moderate and liberal Republicans. Sentiment toward the Palestinians is similar among Republicans by ideology.
Democrats have nearly comparable levels of sympathy for both sides in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Most Democrats (57%) have at least some sympathy for Israel (21% a lot). About as many (54%) have a lot or some sympathy with the Palestinians (16% a lot).
Liberal Democrats and conservative and moderate Democrats express similar levels of sympathy for Israel. But 68% of liberal Democrats have at least some sympathy for the Palestinians (22% a lot). By contrast, just 45% of conservative and moderate Democrats have at least some sympathy for the Palestinians (12% a lot).
A sizable portion of the public — 38% — has at least a lot or some sympathy for both Israel and the Palestinians in their dispute. Meanwhile, two-in-ten (20%) have lower levels of sympathies for both sides.
A larger share of the public sympathizes with just Israel and not the Palestinians (26%) than just the Palestinians and not Israel (8%).
Among Republicans, nearly half (47%) sympathize only with Israel and just 3% sympathize only with the Palestinians. An additional three-in-ten (30%) have sympathies for both sides, while 13% sympathize with neither.
By contrast, just 14% of Democrats sympathize only with Israel; about as many (12%) sympathize only with the Palestinians. A plurality of Democrats (42%) have sympathies with both Israel and the Palestinians and nearly one-in-four (23%) have lower levels of sympathy for either side.
Favorable Views of Netanyahu Little Changed
About as many have a favorable as unfavorable opinion of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (31% vs. 28%). Another 28% volunteer that they have not heard of Netanyahu and 13% can’t rate or refused.
Netanyahu’s favorable rating has slipped seven points since February (from 38%), but there has been almost no change in unfavorable ratings (27% then, 28% now). About four-in-ten (41%) say they have never heard of Netanyahu or express no opinion of him, compared with 35% last month.
Netanyahu’s favorability is significantly down among Democrats: 19% are favorable, 39% are unfavorable and 41% have no opinion (compared with 28% favorable, 35% unfavorable and 37% no opinion last month).
Republicans remain favorable toward the Israeli prime minister by more than two-to-one (47% favorable, 16% unfavorable, 36% no opinion). More Republicans offered an opinion last month, though the balance of opinion was about the same (53% favorable, 21% unfavorable, 26% no opinion).
Overall, 10% of the public has a very favorable impression of Netanyahu, 20% mostly favorable, 18% mostly unfavorable and 10% very unfavorable. Among Republicans, 23% are very favorable and 6% are very unfavorable; just 2% of Democrats feel very favorably about Netanyahu and 16% are very unfavorable.
By a wide margin, conservative Republicans feel positive about Netanyahu (56% favorable vs. 12% unfavorable), while liberal Democrats are unfavorable by a three-to-one margin (51% unfavorable vs. 17% favorable).
Opinion about Netanyahu is generally divided among all age groups and education levels. However, his support has slipped among older adults. Among those 50 and older, Netanyahu’s favorability rating has fallen 10 points compared with last month (37% now, 47% then). Favorable impressions of Netanyahu also have declined 10 points among those with a college degree but no graduate experience (35% now, 45% then).
Netanyahu remains an unfamiliar figure to many Americans, especially young people. Nearly half (47%) of those under 30 say they have never heard of Netanyahu, the highest percentage of any age group. The share of young people who say they have not heard of Israel’s prime minister is higher than it was last month (37%), amid coverage of his upcoming speech to Congress.