Saturday, April 12, 2008

What Do Iranians Think of Their Own Government?

Contrary to what much of the Western media, leftist as well as capitalist, would have us believe, the Iranian government apparently enjoys a high level of popular support, according to the latest World Public Opinion poll, which also clarifies the class base of support for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Would-be regime changers ought to take a hint and stop the economic sanctions, covert actions, "democracy assistance," media propaganda, and other measures against Iran, all of which only undermine the Iranian people's attempts to further democratize their government and make it truly reflect the will of the people. The Iranian government, in turn, should take a deep breath and lighten up: the best defense against imperialism is the deepening of democracy, including industrial democracy, and improvement of the economic lot of working people, not the My Uncle Napoleon syndrome.

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 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 <>.  See, also, "Iranians Oppose Producing Nuclear Weapons, Saying It Is Contrary to Islam: But Most Insist on Iran Producing Nuclear Fuel,", 7 April 2008; "Iranians Favor Direct Talks with US on Shared Issues, Mutual Access for Journalists, More Trade,", 7 April 2008; Jim Lobe, "Iranian Public Sees Reduced U.S. Threat," Inter Press Service, 7 April 2008.


I posted the same excerpt from the same poll in MRZine, which received a number of comments there as well. The excerpt and comments caught the attention of Clay Ramsay (Research Director, Program on International Policy Attitudes, University of Maryland), who was responsible for the poll. He wrote the zine and offered to answer readers' questions: If you have questions for him, please click on the link above and ask the questions there.


Mani said...

What is your benefit from this hypocrisy? If you can read Persian, as you claim, then just go and read some Iranian leftist websites inside Iran to see what is going about Iranian labours. Of course it seems that you think there are no leftist in Iran and the most progressive force here are Islamists; I should inform you that "unfortunately" some of them had survived from 1980-1990s massacre that your "progressive" friends organized against them. And because your "progressive" anti-imperialist friends have not end their process of accumulating capital, and they are doing it quite brutally there is a situation in which a new generation of leftist has emerged from the brutal situation of this exploitation. I can only say that shame on whoever say that s/he is a Marxist but has fell in love with this mullataria...

Yoshie said...

The question is not whether leftists critical of the government, even those implacably opposed to it, exist in Iran. This poll shows that there are voices of oppositions, some of whom, one may assume, are leftists. The question is whether a majority of Iranians, especially working-class Iranians, agree with them. All indications are they don't. That's the problem for Iranian leftists, not the polls that demonstrate the existence of the gap between opinions of a majority of Iranians and those of Iranian leftists.

Mani said...

No, the problem is how Iranian working class can be supporter of a regime which is going to realize one of the most large scale privatizations in the region? How Iranian worker class can support the regime which under its reign only 50000 workers has been fired only in recent month and its police has been ready to suppress all strikes against the situation (like yesterday in Alborz Taier near Tehran)? The problem is how working class can be satisfied when all labour activists from reformist labours to communists are under brutal pressure; some like Ossanlou are in jail in Tehran and some like those Kurd workers are being whipped because they tried to organize a May Day demonstration. But I know that all these are not problematic for you; the only thing matters for you is to show a good face from this hypocrite Ahmadinejad; why? I do not know. But please do not do this dirty job in the name of Marxism and Leftism; we have had thousands of leftist martyrs who Ahmadinejad and people like him has actively took part in killing them.

Yoshie said...

I have published articles that highlight various problems in Iran: e.g., "Interview with Shahla Lahiji on Women's Presence in the Labor Market: No Vocation Must Be Prohibited for Women"; and "Life and Death of Maryam Firuz". But problems like these and ones you bring up exist in just about all countries. Under most circumstances people make choices by weighting what alternatives are available to them. If poorer Iranians prefer an Ahmadinejad to a Rafsanjani, that is because they see differences between them that you either do not think exist or think are too small to matter politically. You may very well be right about this. However, it is not me whom you need to convince -- it's your fellow Iranians whom you need to bring to your side.

Mani said...

I have not written about the "singularity" of Iranian situation; who can claim it in this capitalist world? And the problem is not about choosing Rafsanjani instead of Ahmadinejad; both are wings of this brutal Islamic regime. If Rafsanjani is the representative of technocrats of this Islamic capitalism, Ahmadinejad is the representative of militarists who use their power in the process of accumulation of capital. Ahmadinejad's slogans about "justice" revealed to be hypocrisy one year after he was elected when the over growing inflation and brute suppression of workers and simultaneously privatizing industries in the benefit of military forces showed his real face. You are right that it is my fellow Iranian who should be convinced about the real nature of regime's politics; many are convinced albeit and the sign is that they are being suppressed. But it would be interesting that when the day comes and we and our people be successful to annihilate this suppressive-capitalist-Islamist regime, people like you what will write? I can guess: "Imperialist agents organized a coupe against one of the most prominent progressive, popular, and anti-imperialist states in the world…" No?

Yoshie said...

My focus, in this blog, MRZine, local political activism, and so on is not to change the minds of Iranians but to change those of Americans first and others in the West second, to persuade them to pressure their governments not to attack Iran, militarily or economically.

Why? Because I live in the USA, not in Iran.

Perhaps you think that my focus, instead, should be highlighting the problems of Iran to the exclusion of other aspects so as to aid your work in Iran.

However, for that purpose, English-language publications on the Net are useless. Studies of Internet usage show that the Net is still a relatively elite medium in Iran, and the ability to read and write well in English is not widespread among working-class Iranians.

Different social locations, different audiences, different political tasks.