Iranian Public Opinion after the Protests

Publication Date: 
July 2018
Description: 

CISSM Report

Project: 
Security Cooperation with Iran: Challenges and Opportunities
Document Type: 
Articles and Op-Eds

Read the full report. View the questionnaire and trend tables and the press release.


Summary of Findings 

1. More Iranians See Economy as Bad and Getting Worse
Growing majorities say Iran’s economic situation is bad and getting worse. Less than a fifth now say the economic condition of their family has improved over the last four years. Most say economic mismanagement and corruption are having a greater negative impact than sanctions. Unemployment remains the top concern of the Iranian people. They are divided on whether the next generation will be better off financially than their parents are today.

2. Approval of Nuclear Deal Drops as Disappointment with its Benefits Rises
Enthusiasm for the JCPOA has dropped significantly. Slightly more than half approve of the agreement, while a third oppose it. Two years into the implementation of the deal, majorities believe Iran has not received most of the promised benefits and that people’s living conditions have not been improved by the nuclear deal. An overwhelming majority says the deal did not improve Iran’s relations with the United States, but are more positive about its effect on relations with Europe. 

As Rouhani’s administration steps up its efforts to defend the deal against its domestic opponents, public misperceptions about the terms of the deal have undergone a revival. Clear majorities incorrectly believe that per the agreement, all U.S. sanctions on Iran must eventually be lifted, and that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is not allowed to inspect Iranian military sites under any circumstances. Most Iranians still believe that it is important for Iran to develop its nuclear program, although the percentage that is very supportive has decreased slightly since the JCPOA was signed.

3. Increasing Majority Supports Retaliation if U.S. Abrogates JCPOA 
Attitudes about how Iran should respond if the United States violates the JCPOA have hardened. A growing majority says that were the United States to abrogate the deal, Iran should retaliate by restarting the aspects of its nuclear program it has agreed to suspend under the JCPOA rather than taking the matter to the UN. A modest majority says Iran should withdraw if the United States withdraws, even if other P5+1 countries remain committed to the deal. Most Iranians, however, would support their government if it decides that remaining in the deal is in Iran’s best interest. 

4. Staunch Resistance to Renegotiating the Nuclear Deal with Trump 
Large majorities say that Iran should refuse to increase the duration of the special nuclear limits it accepted under the JCPOA or to stop developing more advanced missiles, even if the United States threatens to re-impose sanctions lifted under the JCPOA or offers to lift more sanctions.  

5. Majority Rejects Halting Development of Missiles 
An overwhelming majority thinks it is important for Iran to develop missiles, primarily to defend Iran, deter attacks, and increase Iran’s security. Large majorities say Iran should continue testing ballistic missiles despite U.S. demands for Iran to halt such tests.

6. Views of P5+1 Countries 
Iranians’ views of all the P5+1 countries besides the United States have improved, and a clear majority expresses confidence that these countries will uphold their end of the JCPOA. Majorities now regard Russia, China, Germany, and even France favorably, but retain negative views of the United States and Britain. For the first time, a majority now says they have an unfavorable view of the American people as well as of their government. A majority believes that Iranian relations with European countries have improved due to the deal; almost no one says that about the United States. Far from showing implacable hostility toward the West, a majority continues to think it is possible for the Islamic world and the West to find common ground, though the number who say conflict between the two is inevitable has increased. 

7. Majority Sees No Value in Negotiations; Support for Self-Sufficiency Grows 
Two in three say the JCPOA experience shows that it is not worthwhile to make concessions as part of international negotiations, because Iran cannot have confidence that world powers would honor their sides of an agreement. Accordingly, an increasing majority thinks Iran should strive to achieve economic self-sufficiency rather than focus on increasing its trade with other countries. Willingness to compromise and make reciprocal concessions is higher among those who think the nuclear deal has improved the living conditions of ordinary Iranians, as well as those who voice confidence that the United States will abide by its side of the agreement.

8. Strong Sympathy with Complaints about Economic Policies and Corruption 
During late December 2017 and early January 2018, large street protests took place across Iran. These protests were organized by different groups of people for varying reasons. To see what proportion of the Iranian population sympathizes with each type of protest, this study asked respondents to indicate the degree to which they sympathized with each of the complaints voiced. Large majorities say they sympathize with complaints voiced by some protestors that the government should do more to keep food and gasoline prices from rising; not cut cash subsidies; and compensate people who lost money when some financial institutions in Iran collapsed. They also agree that the government is not doing enough to help the poor and farmers who are suffering as a result of the drought. Iranians are also almost unanimous in their demand that more should be done to fight financial and bureaucratic corruption in Iran.  

9. Majorities Disagree with Protestors who Critiqued Iran’s Domestic Political System and Foreign Operations 
Three in four disagree that Iran’s political system needs to undergo fundamental change. Two in three also disagree with the view that the government interferes too much in people’s personal lives; indeed, six in ten reject the idea that the government should not strictly enforce Islamic laws. As in the past, about three in four believe that when making decisions, Iranian policymakers should take religious teachings into account. Clear majorities also reject other complaints voiced by some protestors—that the military should spend much less on developing missiles, and that Iran’s current level of involvement in Iraq and Syria is not in Iran’s national interests. U.S. expressions of support for protests were generally regarded as irrelevant or unhelpful.

10. Majority Approves of Police Handling of the Protests 
Two in three approve of how the police handled the protests and say they used an appropriate amount of force. Views about how arrested protestors should be treated depend on how they acted. Almost two in three think that protestors who were arrested while peacefully voicing their complaints against government policies should be released. A smaller majority wants protestors who accidentally injured bystanders to be prosecuted, but not punished harshly. Most Iranians want the judiciary to prosecute protestors who chanted slogans against Islam or Iran’s system of government, but only a minority demand harsh punishment. About six in ten want the judiciary to prosecute and harshly punish those who are found guilty of attacking the police, damaging public property, or burning Iran’s flag.

11. Media Consumption Habits 
Majorities follow news regarding domestic and international affairs. Domestic television, followed by social networking apps, such as Telegram, and the internet are the media used by a majority of Iranians to become informed about the news. The numbers of people relying on VOA and BBC news programs have declined significantly since the rise of social media in Iran.  

12. A Range of Views on Regional Issues 
About half of Iranians say their government should try to find mutually acceptable solutions to regional problems, and the other half say that Iran should seek to become the most powerful country in the region. A large majority says Iran should either increase or maintain its current level of support for groups fighting terrorist groups like ISIS. Most Iranians want Iran to use its influence in Iraq to support policies that benefit both Shiites and Sunnis, rather than policies that primarily benefit Shiites. Now that Iran and Russia have declared victory over ISIS in Syria, almost as many Iranians want to end or reduce assistance to President Bashar Assad as want to continue it until his government regains full control over all Syrian territory. An overwhelming majority reject the idea that Assad should not be allowed to remain as Syria’s president and say the Syrian people should decide whether he remains in office.

13. General Soleimani’s Popularity Soars, while Rouhani and Zarif Slip 
General Qasem Soleimani’s popularity is at an all-time high, with two in three saying that they hold a very favorable opinion of him. He is followed in popularity by the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose favorability rating has decreased slightly since June 2017. President Rouhani’s popularity has dropped sharply since his victory in the May 2017 presidential elections. Opinions of Ebrahim Raisi, Rouhani’s conservative opponent in the election, have held steady. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s former president, remains the most polarizing figure among Iranian politicians.

14. Majority Sees Climate Change as a Very Serious Problem
Iranians almost unanimously see global climate change as a serious issue and a majority says these changes are harming people around the world today. Two in three say they are very concerned that climate change will affect them personally. A large majority wants the government to do more to protect the environment, even if the economy suffers as a result. Two in three say they approve of Iran taking steps to significantly reduce its air pollution over the next 15 years, even if it leads to higher prices and unemployment rates in the short-term.