News organizations and scholars are asking why the U.S. public does not support the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran. It is possible that some Americans have examined the deal, considered the counterfactual of what might occur if the deal is not agreed to, and decided that it is not in our interest to go forward. But the common explanations for the public’s opposition put forth so far fall generally into a few categories: (1) the deal is too complicated to understand, and presumably people oppose complicated things; (2) Americans don’t like or don’t trust Iran; and (3) Americans oppose the agreement simply because it is tied to President Obama.
An overlooked component is the public relations strategies of those in power. In the first two weeks after the deal was first announced, sitting members of Congress issued a total of 251 official e-newsletters to their constituents regarding the Iran deal. These newsletters account for 42 percent of all emails sent during this time and represents a sharp spike in attention to Iran compared to the first seven months of this year.
The tone and content of the e-mails reflected both party affiliation and the individual political beliefs of the Congressional member.
Of all the official e-newsletters in the initial two weeks sent since the deal was announced, only 6 percent discuss any positive components or assessments of the deal, 18 percent are neutral in tone by simply mentioning the deal or asking constituents what they think, and a whopping 76 percent express a negative opinion of the deal.
The first e-newsletter about the deal was sent on July 14 by Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), and states:
“As the lead sponsor of international terrorism, I have little confidence that Iran, a country that proudly celebrates, ‘death to America, death to Israel,’ will honestly adhere to an international agreement that restricts its nuclear capabilities.”
The second, from Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) expresses sadness that the U.S. did not abandon the diplomatic effort in the first place,
“Walking from the negotiating table would have been much more noble than weakness shown down a path less traveled for good reason.”
By July 26, the rhetoric in the emails escalated and the tone turned increasingly negative,
“Iran's publicly stated goals are to wipe Israel from the face of the Earth and to destroy America, and they have a substantial history of actions which prove their commitment to both. A deal with Iran that rolls back sanctions simply means Iran will have more money to fund acts of terrorism, and will accelerate their advancement towards nuclear weapons. The Obama Administration is foolish to think this is good for anyone except Iran and their agents of terrorism. Rest assured, I will vote against this deal and will work hard to help secure the votes to override the President's likely veto.” – Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.)
Even the “positive” e-newsletters are far more cautious than the “negative” e-newsletters are vitriolic. One of the most exuberant pro-deal messages is from non-voting D.C. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D);
“I support the President’s deal, which provides continuous international monitoring of Iraq’s nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency, daily access to all facilities, including military facilities, among others. Although there will be loud opposition in Congress, particularly from those who raise unfair objections about conditions in the Middle East that are not and never have been a part of this particular deal. The only fair way to judge the deal is to remain focused on the fact that Iran with a bomb in today’s Middle East turmoil would be a far greater threat than Iran without a bomb.”
Another question currently being debated is whether Republicans really want to block the Iran deal in Congress. Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarPressure grows to remove Boebert from committees News reporting in an age of rampant mendacity Kevin McCarthy is hostage to the GOP's 'exotic wing' MORE (R-Ariz.) is explicit in what his constituents ought take away from his stance on the deal,
“For these reasons, I am issuing a challenge to YOU: I challenge the American people to make this the biggest issue of the August recess. You can do this, and we need your help. The only way that we will be able to overturn the flawed Iran negotiation is to have the American people learn the facts, speak out and take action.”
As for Democrats, the Iran issue was being avoided more than it was being addressed.
Democrats wrote only 10 percent, and of the 251 e-newsletters that reference the Iran deal and, one Democrat Albio Sires (D-N.J.) sent a skeptical message.
The American public might not like the deal for a variety of reasons, but I would add the insistent message from opponents of the deal in Congress that it is a bad deal, combined with virtual silence from likely supporters of the deal in Congress contributes to status of public opinion.
After analyzing these missives it seems highly unlikely that Republicans will embrace the deal when voting time comes, and instead, very likely that efforts to push anti-Iran, anti-diplomacy measures will continue into the next round of elections.
Finally, the e-newsletters also reveal the shift in how many voters are receiving their news and information. Representatives are now able to reach constituents without the filter of reporters or editors. With social media here to stay, it will be interesting to see the growing role of e-newsletters in influencing public opinion.
Cormack is an assistant professor at Stevens Institute of Technology. She maintains the DCInbox project of every official House and Senate e-newsletter at www.dcinbox.com.