This survey of Iranian public opinion is the sixth in a series conducted during and after the negotiations that produced the JCPOA by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland in collaboration with the Program on Public Consultation and Iranpoll.com. Some of the same questions have been asked consistently since July 2014, when negotiations had been underway for many months, but the two sides remained far apart on some important issues. Some were reworded to reflect important contextual changes, such as public understanding about the main elements of the JCPOA and the Iranian parliamentary elections earlier this year. Some new questions have been added to find out what the Iranian public thinks about issues that have become particularly salient in recent months, such as the extent to which those who have not yet seen any economic benefits from the JCPOA hold Rouhani responsible or blame factors beyond his control. Read the previous reports in this series, a set of assessments about American attitudes towards nuclear diplomacy with Iran, and a collection of related articles.
Summary of Findings
VIEWS OF THE NUCLEAR DEAL
1. Declining Enthusiasm for Nuclear Deal
While the nuclear deal is still supported by a majority, since a year ago this number has diminished, with the number approving strongly dropping by half. A contributing factor may be that, contrary to expectations, a large majority does not perceive improvements in economic conditions as a result of the nuclear deal. Continuing majority support for the deal is buoyed by some optimism that the deal will improve people’s living conditions eventually.
Declining approval of the deal may also be related to increasing awareness of the concessions that Iran made as part of the deal. This may yet worsen, as a majority continues to believe incorrectly that the deal does not allow inspection of military sites under any conditions.
The salience of the nuclear deal is linked to persisting, overwhelming support for Iran’s nuclear program, coupled with the belief that developing nuclear weapons is contrary to Islam, and that the Middle East should be free of nuclear weapons.
2. US Seen as not Fulfilling Commitments Under Nuclear Deal
In general, a growing majority of Iranians are not confident that the US will live up to its obligations under the nuclear agreement. Large majorities believe that, while the United States has lifted the sanctions it agreed to lift in the JCPOA, it is finding other ways to keep the negative effects of those sanctions and, contrary to the terms of the agreement, is trying to prevent other countries from normalizing their trade and economic relations with Iran. Three in four believe that the United States is also trying to impede legitimate nuclear cooperation between Iran and other countries. Two thirds say Iran’s relations with the United States have not improved as a result of the nuclear deal.
3. Other P5+1 Countries Viewed More Favorably Re: Nuclear Deal
Six in ten believe that other P5+1 countries, in contrast to the US, will fulfill their obligations under the nuclear deal. Also in contrast to the US, a large majority thinks Iran’s relations with European countries have already improved as a result of the nuclear deal—though this has slipped lately.
ROUHANI AND THE 2017 ELECTION
4. Ahmadinejad Gaining on Rouhani
While Rouhani is still favored for the 2017 presidential election, his support has dropped below half. Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in particular has made gains, narrowing the gap with Rouhani to eight points. Large majorities still say they have a favorable view of Rouhani and approve of his efforts to improve security and international relations. But his performance on the economy gets mixed marks, with six in ten saying the economy is bad and eight in ten saying it is not improving. Three in four say he has been unsuccessful in reducing unemployment.
5. Support for Rouhani Increasing Civil Liberties in Iran
Two in three Iranians believe that it is important for President Rouhani to seek to increase civil liberties in Iran. However, only a small minority complains that Iranians have too little freedom. While only about a third thinks that civil liberties in Iran have increased during Rouhani’s presidency, a majority voice optimism that civil liberties will increase in the coming two years.
SYRIA AND ISIS
6. Support Declining for Cooperation with US but Not International Community on ISIS
While at the time of the nuclear deal six in ten favored cooperation with the United States against ISIS in Iraq, now a majority is opposed. But eight in ten Iranians still approve of Iran participating in the international negotiations over the future of Syria. Two in three also think Iran should use its influence with key players in Syria to help secure a lasting ceasefire between Assad and the Syrian opposition not affiliated with terrorist groups.
7. Support for Increasing Iran’s Role in the Region and Against ISIS
Large majorities think Iran should increase the role it plays in the region and augment its support for groups that are fighting ISIS, which is viewed negatively by a near unanimous majority. Two thirds support sending Iranian military personnel to Syria. However, only half approve of stepping up support for the Assad government. Eight in ten approve of Iran collaborating with Russia to help the government of Bashar Assad counter ISIS.
VIEWS OF US AND OTHER NATIONS AND ORGANIZATIONS
8. Views of the United States Remain Negative
Views of the United States, especially the US government, continue to be quite negative, and less than a third expect the relationship between Iran and the United States to improve over the next three years. Majorities continue to support a variety of people-to-people exchanges and confidence-building measures, but these numbers are declining. A bare majority continues to have a positive view of the American people.
9. Views of Other Countries and Organizations
Iranians view their country’s allies, notably Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Hezbollah, favorably, while already negative views of Saudi Arabia and Turkey have worsened. Views of Russia and China are generally favorable.
Western countries, with the exception of Germany, are viewed unfavorably, with Britain and the US viewed negatively by large majorities in Iran. Nonetheless, a majority thinks that it is better for Iran to increase its economic engagement with Western countries. A majority thinks that it possible for Islam and the West to find common ground.
SOURCE OF NEWS AND INFORMATION
10. Source of News and Information
Iranians obtain their news and information from a variety of sources. Two in three Iranians watch domestic television channels every day to become informed about the news. An increasing proportion of Iran’s population goes regularly to the internet for news. About a third of Iranians continue to follow the news programs of VOA and BBC.