Voters Split on $400 Million ‘Ransom’ Payment; Half Support Iran Deal

(Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)
August 22, 2016 at 3:27 pm ET

Voters are split on the Obama administration delaying a $400 million payment to Iran until it secured the release of four American hostages, according to a new Morning Consult poll, which also shows that nearly a majority of voters back the nuclear deal with the Middle Eastern country.

An equal percentage of voters (41 percent) supported and opposed delaying the transfer, which is part of a $1.7 billion payment the United States agreed to give to Iran to settle a decades-old dispute over a weapons sale. Almost a fifth of voters (18 percent) said they didn’t know or had no opinion.

The national survey was conducted after the State Department acknowledged last week that the payment was contingent on the hostages being released, a notion that President Obama dismissed earlier this month. State Department Spokesman John Kirby, speaking to reporters, said the payment was delayed for several hours to be used as “leverage” to secure the hostages’ release.

“With concerns that Iran may renege on the prisoner release given unnecessary delays regarding persons in Iran who could not be located … we, of course, sought to retain maximum leverage until after American citizens were released,” Kirby said.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have repeatedly lambasted the Obama administration for the payment, calling it a “ransom.”

While voters are divided evenly on the arrangement, they were most likely to “strongly oppose” it. More than a quarter of voters (26 percent) said they “strongly oppose” the administration’s decision to delay the payment, while 16 percent said the opposite.

Another 25 percent of respondents said they “somewhat support” the arrangement, and 15 percent said they “somewhat oppose” it.

Criticism of the move breaks down sharply along partisan lines: 43 percent of Republicans said they strongly oppose the payment, compared with one-fourth of independents and just 12 percent of Democrats.

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Supporters of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump also differed greatly in their responses. Almost 7 in 10 (67 percent) Clinton backers said they agreed with the administration’s decision, while 55 percent of Trump supporters did not.

Most voters (60 percent) said they have seen, read or heard at least “some” information about the arrangement, while about one out of four voters (27 percent) said they hadn’t heard much about it, and 14 percent said they’d heard “nothing at all.”

The legal settlement was negotiated alongside the Iran nuclear deal, which the poll shows voters support by a 13-point margin (49 percent to 36 percent) in a huge shift of public opinion from last year.

A year ago, more than half of voters (56 percent) opposed the deal, while only a quarter (27 percent) supported it, according to a Morning Consult poll conducted in August 2015. (Note: The language in the question on that poll was slightly different.)

In the new poll, voters were most likely to say they “somewhat support” the nuclear deal, with 31 percent expressing that opinion. The poll from last year, on the other hand, showed that only 19 percent of respondents expressed that view. About 1 out of 5 voters (21 percent) said they “strongly oppose” the deal in the new poll, a large decline in opposition from last year, when 37 percent held that opinion.

The new poll also shows almost a fifth of voters (18 percent) said they “strongly support” the deal. A year before only 8 percent of voters “strongly” supported the deal.

The only figure that has not changed much is voters who “somewhat oppose” the deal. Fifteen percent in August 2016 said they “somewhat oppose” it. Last year that number was 19 percent.

The shift coincides with an uptick in President Obama’s approval rating. Last August, Morning Consult’s national trend poll showed his approval rating at 43 percent to 57 percent disapproval. A year later most voters support (51 percent) the job Obama is doing as president, while 49 percent disapprove.

Again, the public’s sentiment on the deal was largely partisan: More than half of Republicans (52 percent) still oppose the deal, with 36 percent strongly opposing it. Almost 4 in 10 (38 percent) of independents and 21 percent of Democrats oppose the agreement. Ninety percent of Trump supporters opposed the deal, and 85 percent of Clinton supporters were for it.

The national poll was conducted Aug. 18-20 and consisted of 2,001 registered voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points. See the toplines and crosstabs.

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