Iranian Public Opinion after the Protests

In the aftermath of widespread protests in more than 100 cities in Iran, a new public opinion poll conducted by the Center for International Security Studies at Maryland, in conjunction with, suggests that the overwhelming majorities of Iranians agree with protestors’ critiques of government economic performance.

On Friday, February 2, the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative hosted a panel discussion on the results of the new survey to examine key issues including climate change, unemployment, economic mismanagement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the broader set of regional and international issues faced by the nation.

Dr. Ebrahim Mohseni, research scholar at the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, spoke at length about the survey conducted by phone, from January 16-24, 2018. Dr. Mohseni pointed out that Iranians have increasingly become more aware of the adverse effects of climate change, stating, “When we asked people about (the seriousness of) climate change, we get 94 percent, 73 as very serious and 21 as somewhat serious.”  Dr. Mohseni noted that Iran has been experiencing severe drought throughout the country and has had the lowest amount of rainfall in over 65 years.

Another key takeaway is that the recent protests occurred when a growing number of Iranians say the economy is getting worse (58 percent, up from 50 percent in June 2017). Only 17 percent of Iranians said that the economic conditions of their family have improved over the past four years, and 75 percent said the nuclear deal has not improved living conditions in Iran.

Dr. Mohseni stated, “63 percent say domestic economic mismanagement and corruption have had a negative impact on the Iranian economy, compared to 32 percent saying foreign sanctions and pressure.” Overall, he said, 96 percent believe the government must do more to fight financial and bureaucratic corruption, 73 percent said the government is not doing enough to help the poor, and 81 percent asserted that the government should compensate people who’ve lost money from collapsed financial institutions.

The poll also revealed that an overwhelming 85 percent of Iranians regard President Trump’s policies toward Iran as hostile; 64 percent were not confident that the United States would honor its JCPOA commitments and 93 percent believed the US is violating its obligations to allow other countries to normalize trade and economic relations with Iran. While opinion of the United States and Americans has dropped over the past year, the favorability ratings of the other signatories to the JCPOA – Russia, China, Germany, France and Britain – have improved. Some 60 percent of Iranians expressed confidence in these other countries’ commitments to the JCPOA.

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, the founder and publisher of Bourse & Bazaar, stated, “We are looking at the economic roots of a new anti-Americanism in Iran.” He noted the critical need for foreign investment, a necessary incentive for liberalizing reforms and said, “the whole project of economic reform is being jeopardized by the US attitude toward the [nuclear] deal.” Batmanghelidj asserted, “There are ways to be tough on Iran without undermining the faith of Iranian parents in whether or not their children will have bright futures.”

The poll further showcased that 70 percent of Iranians believe that if the Trump administration threatens to reimpose sanctions lifted by the JCPOA unless Iran agrees to stop developing ballistic missiles, Iran should refuse. Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation at the Arms Control Association, spoke extensively about Iran’s ballistic missile program, stating, “If you look at the breakdown for reasons why (Iranians support the missile program) it’s very much framed in the importance of missiles as a defense mechanism, missiles as part of Iran’s security apparatus and structure.” Davenport also noted that Iran has “not used its ballistic missiles to threaten coercive action and it’s not extending the range of its ballistic missiles.” She suggested focusing instead on “what is clearly prohibited” by UN Security Council resolution 2231, namely the transfer of Iranian missile technology to other nations.

To rewatch the event, click here.