Public Opinion in Iran

Security for a New Century was pleased to host Dr Steven Kull,
Director of and the Program on International
Policy Attitudes to discuss recent polling of public opinion in Iran.
The results were revealing, informative and often surprising.

Iranian public opinion continues to be largely negative towards the
US. In comparison with views on a variety of other countries, such as
the UK, China, France and Russia, the US fared worst. The primary
reasons behind these views was the perception that the US wanted to
control oil resources in the region and was pursuing an agenda designed
to weaken Islam and the Islamic world. A majority of those polled felt
that a lot of what happened across the globe was ‘controlled’ by the US.

However, beneath these generally negative views were important
caveats. The most recent polling suggests that negative opinions
towards the US are at a lower level than when similar polling was
carried out in 2006. Also, less people than in 2006 felt that a US
invasion of Iran was imminent. Dr Kull suggested that this apparent
‘thawing’ of perceptions of the US may be due to the most recent
National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear capability which
suggested Iran had ceased work on its nuclear program and urged
negotiations with the country.

Iranians were often at pains to emphasize that their negative
perceptions of the US were towards the US Government specifically.
Views of the American people were significantly more positive. This may
lie behind the findings that the majority of Iranians were in favor of
closer informal relations between the two countries, such as sporting
events, increased tourism and academic exchanges. Despite the negative
perceptions of the US Government, most Iranians were in favor of
inter-governmental talks between the two nations on issues of mutual
concern, most notably regarding the situation in Iraq.

On the crucial issue of Iran’s nuclear program, polling found a
clear and substantial majority in favor of Iran having a nuclear power
capability. However, most of those polled were firmly against Iran
having nuclear weapons. The primary reason for the latter standpoint
was that nuclear weapons contradicted the principles of Islam. This
belief also appeared to influence the majority held view that Iran
should join the Non-Proliferation Treaty and also that the world should
work towards eliminating nuclear weapons altogether.

As with perceptions of the US, however, Iranians views on nuclear
are complex. Despite the overall view that Iran should not have nuclear
weapons and should work towards ridding the world of them, there was a
strong feeling that other nations across the world were developing
nuclear weapons and, as such, Iran required the capability to develop nuclear weapons of its own in order to maintain the nation’s security.

When asked about Iran’s role in the wider region, a significant
minority expressed an opinion that regional dominance should be Iran’s
aim. However, over half of those polled preferred co-operative
relations with Iran’s neighbors. This desire for co-operation in the
international arena extended to the United Nations (UN). Perceptions of
the UN were largely positive, although there were concerns that the
organization was dominated by the US. Nevertheless, most felt that the
UN should be strengthened and allowed to play a larger role in
international affairs.

Returning to domestic issues, the polling found high levels of trust
both in the Iranian Government as a whole and also in President
Ahmadinejad. In both cases, trust in Government and leading politicians
is considerably higher than usually found in western countries. As well
as general support for Ahmadinejad on domestic issues, the polling
found most Iranians backed his approach to foreign policy.

Pollsters also posed broader questions on democracy and democratic
principles. The response was largely supportive of democracy as a
system and also the premise that a Government should largely reflect
the will of the people. When asked for their views on related
democratic principles such as human rights, freedom of the press and
gender equality, most Iranians again expressed their support. These
positive views were most pronounced amongst young Iranians. While
overall young Iranians were negative towards the US and supportive of
the Iranian government, these sentiments were not as strong as among
older generations.

The full report can be found via the link below:

This briefing is the eighth in an ongoing series on the US and Iran that Security for a New Century has developed in partnership with the US Institute of Peace.
The series aims to explore a wide range of political, economic, social
and cultural issues which influence US – Iranian relations.

“Security for a New Century” is a bipartisan study group for
Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy
professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security
environment. All discussions are off-the-record. It is not an advocacy
venue. Please call (202) 223-5956 for more information.

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