2003 May 06 Tuesday
What Do Polls Tell Us About The Iranian People?

Some neocon hawks argue that the threat of nuclear proliferation from Iran can be dealt with by helping the reformist forces in Iran. Most notably Michael Ledeen has repeatedly made the argument that Iran is ripe for the picking to become a liberal democracy if only we'd help out. See here and here and here and here for examples of his views on the subject. By contrast, in my view the Iranian people are not in a pre-revolutionary frame of mind. Now let us look at some opinion polls that have come out of Iran in the last year or two and see if there are any hopeful signs for Ledeen's rosy anti-Mullah pro-liberal democracy scenario.

First of all, slightly over half of the youthful folks in Iran do not approve of the performance of the Iranian government. These 14 to 29 year olds represent about a third of the total Iranian population.

Citing the results of a questionnaire completed by 75,000 14 to 29-year-olds over the past year, the group said "54 percent do not approve of the plans and performance of the government ... although 80 percent approve of Khatami himself".

Does 54 percent seem a lot to you? How often have US Presidents had approval ratings that low or lower? Did the US have a revolution as a result? This hardly seems promising. That Iranians polled had a higher esteem for the Iranian President who effectively serves as a puppet of the Mullahs who have the real power is not encouraging either. Khatami is not going to lead a revolt against the figures who wield the real power.

Most of the Iranian population want better relations with the United States and about half are sufficiently opposed to their own government to approve of US policy toward their country.

In October the judicial authorities closed down the National Institute for Research Studies and Opinion Polls, which found in a poll commissioned by the Parliament that approximately three quarters of the population supported dialogue with the U.S., and close to half approved of U.S. policy towards their country.

Well, you can find Democrats who approved of US policy toward the United States over the Iraq war. Again, this is not earth shattering.

The pollsters who conducted that previous poll were sentenced to jail terms for doing the poll.

A poll conducted last year for a parliamentary committee showed 74 percent of Tehran residents in favor of dialogue with America. An enraged judiciary charged three prominent pollsters with selling classified information to institutes with alleged links to the CIA.

In a bizarre twist, hardliner (see what he says about the Muslim use of nuclear weapons against Israel) former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani favors a referendum to approve normalization of diplomatic relations with the United States.

Hashemi Rafsanjani, former president of Iran, suggested recently that a referendum be held for Iranians to decide if they want to reconcile with the United States. A majority of Iranians favor reconciliation, according to numerous opinion polls.

What is his motive? To placate the portion of the Iranian population that is opposed to the regime? To just cause trouble for other factions among the Mullahs?

Previously mentioned conservative columnist Michael Ledeen, a long time observer of Iran and advocate of US support for opposition forces in Iran, reports on a secret poll that showed very deep dissatisfaction with the Iranian government.

Two recent polls suffice to demonstrate the hatred of the Iranian people for their leaders, whether "hardline" or "reformist." The first, a secret survey carried out by the Interior Ministry for the ruling mullahs, found that only six percent of 16,000 people in Tehran said they were satisfied with the regime; the other 94 percent said they were unhappy with it. Moreover, nearly half of those polled 45 percent said it was impossible to reform the system and must be totally changed.

It is hard to know what to make of this. Assume this report is accurate. How deep is the dissatisfaction? Does it translate into anger? What is the motive for the dissatisfaction? Ledeen wants to find signs that the Iranian people are so dissatisfied that, appropriately encouraged, they'd rise up and overthrow their rulers and replace those rulers with a new government which will abandon efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Well, how convenient (hear the Dana Carvey Church Lady's voice when you read that). What if they are more resigned and despondent than angry? What if they want a better economic system but want a strong military and see themselves as having every bit as much of a right to nuclear weapons as the United States?

Ledeen also comments that people may have been less than honest with the pollsters out of fear that the government was conducting the poll and could retaliate. Well, would someone who is that fearful answer the first question honestly and say they were unhappy with the government and yet answer the second question dishonestly and say that the system didn't have to be totally changed? Perhaps. But if the fear was that great I'd expect more than 6% would say out of fear that they really were happy with the government.

Ledeen has one secret poll result supporting his view of deep popular dissatisfaction whose accuracy we can not trust. But even if the level of dissatisfaction is as great as he reports that will still not lead automatically to a revolution. As long as the Mullahs have enough enforcers and a willingess to lock up, kill, and torture opponents the prospects of revolution are low unless a large portion of people get very angry. It takes fury to send people out into the streets to put their lives at risk in sufficient number to bring down the regime. But the Iranians already did that once and were disappoionted with the result.

There are other polls reported from Iran that are coming from sources that make them suspect. The Iranian government's own news agency the Islamic Republic News Agency reports a poll showing deep Iranian popular distrust of the United States.

Tehran, April 14, IRNA -- Eighty-three percent of citizens in Tehran distrust US government, a survey carried out by the Iranian Students Opinion Polls Center, has shown.

The polling was carried out on April 10 and 11, using the 'cluster sampling' method, in which 973 people were interviewed, the center said in a statement, a copy of which was faxed to IRNA Monday.

This poll might even be accurate. But I have the sneaking suspicion that the government pretty much went looking for questions to ask that would allow it to portray America in the most negative light. My guess is that the question they were not about to ask (at least if they were going to honestly report their results) is whether the interviewed people trusted their own government. Of course Ledeen's point about fearfulness of the government applies on this poll as well. If the people know that the correct answer is to state that they distrust the government then they'd tend to do so.

But if people in Iran are afraid to answer some poll questions honestly one would expect them to be fearful of anyone who either calls them up or approaches them to ask questions. Therefore one would have to doubt the accuracy of the results of the other polls mentioned above.

Iranian voters are so disillusioned that only 10% of the population of Teheran turned out to vote and conservatives won almost all the contested seats.

Conservatives recovered almost all the local council seats which reformers won in Iran's first ever municipal elections in 1999 , on a tiny turnout amid growing public disillusion with electoral politics.

Can people be unwilling to vote and yet willing to rise up and revolt? Count me skeptical. What I see in Iran is unenthusiastic disillusionment. The grievances are there. But there is no fire-in-the-belly revolutionary fervor. Also, there are religious factions who are fervent who will support the theocracy against the threat of a secular revolution.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 May 06 03:07 PM  Axis Of Evil

asghar said at June 17, 2005 2:48 PM:

The goverment has beeb fuck The iranian people
If united nation has any way to solve it problem ???
what we can to do ?

JMcGee said at March 9, 2006 6:39 AM:


For this type of article, where it's obvious that your intention is to inform and persuade, there really should be a works cited section. None of the pertinent URL links are functional. The ones that are, are links to other articles where information was again claimed, but not cited.

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