What Do Iranians Think of Their Own Government?

Iranians largely express satisfaction with their government.  Two out of three say that Iran is generally going in the right direction, though a plurality is dissatisfied with the Iranian economy.  Half say they trust the government to do what is right most of the time, while another quarter say they trust it at least some of the time.  Two-thirds express satisfaction with Iran’s relations with the world as a whole.  Large majorities approve of how President Ahmadinejad is handling his job at home and his dealings with other countries, though this support is considerably lower among more educated and higher-income Iranians.

About two thirds of Iranians make positive assessments of Iran’s government and general direction.  Asked, “Generally speaking, do you think things in Iran today are going in the right direction or . . . the wrong direction?” 65 percent say things are moving in the right direction, while 24 percent disagree.

However, Iranians make an exception about the economy.  A 49 percent plurality said they were “mostly dissatisfied with Iran’s economy,” while 36 percent said they were mostly satisfied.

Three in four Iranians say that they trust the government to do what is right at least some of the time.  Respondents were asked how much of the time they “trust the national government in Tehran to do what is right.”  Forty-eight percent said the government could be trusted most of the time, and another 26 percent said it could be trusted some of the time.  Just 14 percent answered “rarely” (11%) or “never” (2%).

Trust in Iranian Government

In foreign relations, two-thirds (64%) said they are mostly satisfied with Iran’s relations with the world as a whole; 28 percent said they were mostly dissatisfied.

Two thirds also approve of how President Ahmadinejad is handling his job at home and his dealings with other countries.  Sixty-six percent approved “of the way President Ahmadinejad is handling his job as president,” while 22 percent disapproved.  To probe deeper into these sentiments of support, the study asked questions about “the way President Ahmadinejad has been traveling abroad and speaking about Iran’s foreign policy.”  Sixty-three percent said the president’s activities have made “the overall security of Iran” “mostly better”; only 14 percent said this has made Iran’s security mostly worse.  Similarly, 64 percent said Ahmadinejad’s activities had made “other countries’ views of Iran” mostly better; 16 percent said his work had made these countries’ views worse.

Support for Ahmadinejad is stronger among those with low income and low education, and considerably weaker at the upper end of each scale.  Among low-income respondents, 75 percent approved of Ahmadinejad’s performance; among high-income respondents, it was 41 percent, with 38 percent disapproving.  Among those with less than a high school education, 80 percent approved of Ahmadinejad; among those with some college or more, it was 49 percent, with 35 percent disapproving.  These differences suggest that the remarks of many observers, to the effect that Ahmadinejad operates as the Iranian version of a “populist,” are not far off the mark.

Ahmadinejad's Job Approval

In the focus groups some noted that there are those in the West who believe that Iranians do not support their government.  This was viewed with some annoyance and rejected.  As one man said:

There is a widespread propaganda in the media that the Iranians don’t like their own government.  But I would like to tell them that it is not like that at all.  We love our government and officials.  We have chosen them ourselves and we do not need others to tell us how to make decisions.  In the last presidential elections, a little less than 70% of the eligible voters took part. . .  This level of participation does not even happen in the US.  Don’t you think that this signals our trust and love for our political system?  Don’t you think that when we take part in the elections we are signaling our support of the government?

The notion that the Guardian Council should screen candidates was also largely endorsed.  For example a woman said:

Candidates must meet some qualification. . . We even have illiterate peasants coming to Tehran to run for the presidency with the silly goal of maintaining the price of potatoes.  We’ve got beggars and unemployed signing up to become candidates to better their own lot, and this is simply not acceptable.

Another woman emphasized that the Guardian Council’s “members are indirectly chosen by the people.”  She said that she had confidence in them “because they too have been chosen by the people.  It is the people who ultimately make the decision in Iranian elections.”

Another expressed some reservations along with a general acceptance:

Of course it happens in every country that an individual who is not well liked ends up in high office. But at the end of the day, since we have voted in favor of our constitution, even if sometimes the constitutional system fails in the screening process, we should not denounce the whole system.  We have chosen this constitutional system and it is also under the supervision of our leader, in whom we confidence.

Views were mixed about Ahmadinejad.  One person said, “He works really hard for the people. . . he is courageous.”  Another said, “I do not deny his shortcomings but as far as his foreign policy goes, I think he has been able to make things better.”

On the other hand there were complaints about how hard he has pushed the nuclear issue:

As compared to now, I think at the time of President Khatami, Iran was much more stable.  The policies of Ahmadinejad have been too radical.  During the times of president Khatami much research was done on nuclear energy, but Ahmadinejad. . .  I think he should have proceeded with more caution and less speed.  He just went full speed ahead.  His radical stances have placed lots of strains on Iran.

Another agreed, saying: “I think he made it worse.  Because unlike Khatami he stood so firm that others placed sanctions on us.”  But then another countered:

I totally disagree. President Khatami was not even successful internally. . .  And as far foreign policy and Iran’s nuclear program was concerned, President Khatami continuously bowed to the pressures and only conceded, without getting absolutely anything in return.

This article is an excerpt (pp. 18-20) from “Public Opinion in Iran: With Comparisons to American Public Opinion,” a WorldPublicOpinion.org Poll conducted in partnership with Search for Common Ground and Knowledge Networks, 7 April 2008.  “The poll of Iranians was conducted with a randomly selected sample of 710 Iranian adults, from rural as well as urban areas, January 13-February 9, 2008.  The margin of error is +/-3.8 percent.  Interviews were conducted in every province of Iran.  Professional Iranian interviewers conducted face-to-face interviews in Iranian homes.  Within each community, randomly selected for sampling, households were chosen according to international survey methods that are standard for face-to-face interviewing.  In some cases, a respondent did not want to be interviewed because the interviewer was of the opposite sex. Interviewers then offered to either reschedule the interview for a time when the male head of household would be present, or to have an interviewer of the same sex visit.  The poll questionnaire was developed in consultation with experts on Iran as well as the Iranian polling firm.  In addition to the poll, focus groups were conducted in Tehran with representative samples of Iranians” (“Public Opinion in Iran,” pp. 3-4). The questionnaire and methodology is available at <worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/apr08/Iran_Apr08_quaire.pdf>.  See, also, “Iranians Oppose Producing Nuclear Weapons, Saying It Is Contrary to Islam: But Most Insist on Iran Producing Nuclear Fuel,” WorldPublicOpinion.org, 7 April 2008; “Iranians Favor Direct Talks with US on Shared Issues, Mutual Access for Journalists, More Trade,” WorldPublicOpinion.org, 7 April 2008; Jim Lobe, “Iranian Public Sees Reduced U.S. Threat,” Inter Press Service, 7 April 2008.

Open for Your Questions about WorldPublicOpinion.org Iran Poll

Dear MR readers,

I noticed that MRZine excerpted our recent report on our poll of Iranians, and this has excited some comment:

I’m one of those responsible for the study, and thought I should make myself available for whatever questions you would like to throw out.  If this is posted where people can find it, I’ll try to answer your questions over the next couple of days.

Clay Ramsay
Research Director
Program on International Policy Attitudes,
University of Maryland
1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW, suite 510
Washington DC  20036

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