Five years ago, a CNN opinion poll of adult Americans asked:
Do you think Iran currently has nuclear weapons, or not?
71% of the respondents answered “Yes.” Only 3% expressed no opinion, which is to say, acknowledged that they didn’t know.
In the intervening period, as news of ongoing negotiations between Iran and the U.S. (and the rest of the P5+1) has occasionally captured the headlines, I guess a number of those who believed that Iran already has nuclear weapons have since deduced that there would be no negotiations taking place if indeed Iran was already nuclear armed.
The results of a poll released earlier this month indicated that a majority of Americans (Democrats, Republicans, and Independents) now “support an agreement that would limit Iran’s enrichment capacity and impose additional intrusive inspections in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions.”
And yet, another recent poll shows that an even larger majority of Americans believe a nuclear deal with Iran would make little difference in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Perhaps that’s because there are still a lot of Americans who believe Iran already possesses nuclear weapons.
As much as anything, the information opinion polls gather says as much about the questions as the answers.
If I was a pollster, I’d be tempted to ask questions like this:
Have you tried the new energy drink, P5+1?
Do you think it tastes better than P5?
I’d also present a questionnaire to all members of Congress, asking:
What does the “P” in P5+1 refer to?
e) Don’t know
And who is the 1?
b) North Korea
d) United States
e) Don’t know
But seriously, the professional pollsters could provide a valuable public service if they simply prefaced every attempt to gather public opinion by underlining the value of answering, “don’t know,” when that’s really the truth.
With some gentle coaxing, we might find that Americans are not as delusional as they often appear. They’re simply afraid of revealing how little they know.
If people were less embarrassed about intentionally exposing their ignorance, then polls might more than anything else highlight the degree to the United States is a dysfunctional democracy in which the media, political, and educational systems are failing to sustain an informed citizenry.