Friday, February 16, 2018

What Do Iranians Think About the United States?

Updated May 2018

With Washington backing Iran and its religious leadership into a corner and looking like there could be yet another Middle East war, a recent public opinion poll by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) looks at the United States - Iran relationship from the Iranian viewpoint, a viewpoint that Westerners rarely hear.  Some of the responses may make Western politicians realize that Iranians are humans, just like the rest of us, and that governments don't always represent the will of their voters.

The 103 question survey was completed after the short-lived protests that took place in various cities throughout Iran beginning on December 28, 2017 and lasting until January 7, 2018.  The questionnaire was completed by 1002 people and has a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.  Let's look at some of the key questions, showing the responses for January 2018 followed by the responses for earlier surveys in brackets for comparison.  We will start with a few questions about how Iranians feel about the quality of their life followed by questions about the recent protests and closing with a more detailed examination of how Iranians feel about the P5+1 nuclear agreement that was implemented in January 2016.

1.) In your opinion, how good or bad is our country's general economic situation? (January 2016)

Very good - 2.5% (8.4%)
Somewhat good - 27.6% (40.9%)
Somewhat bad - 28.2% (24.2%)
Very bad - 40.7% (24.4)

2.) Which of the following do you think has the greatest negative impact on the Iranian economy? (May 2015) 

Foreign sanctions and pressures - 32.1% (26.3%)
Domestic economic mismanagement and corruption - 63.35 (64.3%)

3.) When children today in Iran grow up, do you think they will be better off or worse off financially than their parents? 

Better off - 48.5%
Worse off - 43.4%

4.) Here is a table showing how respondents answered the following question:

As you may know, many different protests recently occurred across Iran for various reasons.  I will now read you different complaints that were voiced during the protests.  Please tell me the degree to which you agree or disagree with each of these complaints:

It is quite clear that many Iranians are concerned about the rising cost of consumer essentials and that just over 16 percent of Iranians feel that their political system needs to undergo a fundamental change.

5.) With the recent protests still in mind, here is a question about the United States support for the protestors:

As you may know, a number of US officials, including President Donald Trump, expressed their support for the protestors.  Do you think such statements of support for protestors mostly help, mostly hurt or have no effect on advancing the demands of the protestors?

Mostly help - 9.2%
Mostly hurt - 39.2%
Have no effect - 48.0%

6.) Now, let's look at one of the biggest sticking points between Washington and Iran, Iran's nuclear program and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA.

In you opinion, how important is it for our country to develop its nuclear program? (January 2016)

Very important - 75.3% (82.2%)
Somewhat important - 10.5% (10.6%)
Not very important - 5.1% (3.0%)
Not important at all - 4.5% (2.4%)

Those who stated that it was important for Iran to develop its nuclear program stated that it was important for the following reasons:

To be able to advance in scientific areas - 17.4%
To increase Iran's power - 13.1%
To become more technologically advanced - 11.6%
In order not to fall behind other countries - 8.7%
To use instead of fossil fuels - 7.7%

Only 6.7 percent of respondents said that it was important to use Iran's nuclear program to defend against its enemies.

7.) As you may know, in July 2015, Iran and the P5+1 countries reached a comprehensive agreement in regard to Iran’s nuclear program, which is also known as the JCPOA. In general and based on what you know about the JCPOA, to what degree do you approve or disapprove of this agreement? (January 2016)

Strongly approve - 26% (30.4%)
Somewhat approve - 29.1% (41.4%)
Somewhat disapprove - 21.7% (13.2%)
Strongly disapprove - 12.1% (8.3%)

As you can see, Iranian support for the JCPOA has fallen from 71.8 percent in January 2016 to 55.1 percent in January 2018, a rather steep decline.

8.) Which view is closest to yours in regard to the sanctions on Iran that the United States agreed to lift as part of the JCPOA?

Once again, it is apparent that Iranians believe that the United States has not lived up to the spirit of the JCPOA.  Despite the lifting of sanctions, only 6.3 percent of Iranians believe that their life is better than it was before the JCPOA was signed.

9.) Let's look at the bottom line; how has the signing of the JCPOA affected the relationship between Iran and the United States? (June 2016)

Improved a lot - 0.5% (2.2%)
Improved somewhat - 2.7% (17.2%)
Improved a little - 2.3% (9.3%)
Have not improved - 82.7% (55.7%)
Have worsened - 7.5% (10.2%)

10.) Lastly, let's look at the trust that Iranians place in the United States and its obligations under the JCPOA:

How confident are you that the United States will live up to its obligations toward the nuclear agreement? (January 2016)

Very confident - 1.1% (4.1%)
Somewhat confident - 10.5% (29.8%)
Not very confident - 22.5% (28.1%)
Not confident at all - 63.9% (33.9%)

When asked about the the hostility level of President Obama and President Trump policies toward Iran, 69.2 percent said that Donald Trump was completely hostile compared to 49.6 percent for Barack Obama and 41.8 percent believe that the United States has taken measures against Iran that violate the letter of the JCPOA.

As you can see from this brief extract from a very thorough survey of Iranian sentiment toward the United States, the Trump Administration has done very little to improve relations between the two nations.  Sadly, because of the recent moves by Washington, more than half of Iranians believe that Iran should restart its nuclear program (58.7 percent) and withdraw from the JCPOA (52.8 percent).   At least the American defense industry will benefit from any moves toward all-out hostilities between the two nations, creating jobs and Making America Great Once Again!

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