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Summary of Findings
Challenges Facing Iran
President Raisi and Key Challenges
Though a large majority express satisfaction with Raisi becoming president, at least four in ten are dissatisfied with how the election was conducted and almost three in five want to see changes in Iran’s election law. At the same time, Raisi himself is viewed positively by about three quarters, while the outgoing president Rouhani is viewed negatively by a similar number.
Three quarters describe the economy as bad, and a majority call it very bad. Half ascribe this primarily to domestic economic mismanagement and corruption, while a quarter ascribe it more to the pandemic and another quarter more to sanctions. About two thirds think Iran should strive for self-sufficiency (as has been the case since 2017). Current economic attitudes do not translate into an entirely pessimistic outlook: a majority think that by three years from now ordinary Iranians will have better living conditions. On average, Iranians’ ratings of the quality of their own lives have not slipped over the last six months.
There is more concern about Iran’s performance against the pandemic than there was last fall: those who feel Iran has done as well as, or better than, similar countries are now a little over half, down from seven in ten in October. Under a fifth now rate Iran’s public healthcare system’s performance as very good, down from four in ten. There is little vaccine hesitancy in Iran: three quarters either would take a vaccine approved by Iran’s health ministry, or had already taken at least one dose (three in ten) at the time of the survey. The World Health Organization reports that as of October 10, 2021, 30% of Iranian adults have received at least one dose, and 23% are fully vaccinated. The Iranian Ministry of Health gives higher figures of 81% with at least one dose and 42% fully vaccinated. When asked to say in their own words why they think Iran’s vaccine campaign had not been faster, a majority blame domestic reasons; only a quarter blame sanctions or foreign countries. For the first time in years, more report seeing access to foreign-made medicines and equipment—over a quarter perceive an increase.
Levels of Public Confidence in Raisi as Term Begins
Large majorities express confidence that Raisi can significantly lower inflation and unemployment, increase Iran’s trade with other countries, control the pandemic and root out corruption. Three quarters are at least somewhat confident that he will fulfill his promises; four in five view him favorably.
Iran’s Global Relations
Views of Other Countries
At this point, majorities view China and Russia positively, and in equal degrees—a little less than three in five. About three in five view France negatively, and these negative views have increased slowly since 2019. Views of the United States are highly negative, and the majority with a negative view of Saudi Arabia is even larger.
Relations with China
A majority now says that Iran should try more to strengthen its relations with Asian countries than with European countries. A clear majority again views China favorably; attitudes have recovered from a sharp drop after the pandemic started. About six in ten are aware of negotiations between Iran and China for a long-term economic agreement. Among those following the issue, six in ten say such an agreement would be in Iran’s interest, but this positive attitude does not extend to granting China exclusivity in the oil sector. A plurality is concerned that China will eventually seek to influence Iran’s foreign policies, but fewer expect this for Iran’s domestic affairs.
Attitudes Toward the United States
Over four in five Iranians view the United States unfavorably, and three quarters view it very unfavorably. Two thirds now see the Biden administration’s policies toward Iran as hostile, while a quarter see them as neutral. Seven in ten perceive the United States as seeking to prevent humanitarian-related products from reaching Iran, slightly up since February. However, three in five believe the United States has already sanctioned Iran to the fullest degree possible and cannot worsen Iran’s current conditions. At the same time, were the United States to take initiatives to ease tensions, this would be seen as meaningful by large majorities. Lifting sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran, or working to remove obstacles to Iran purchasing vaccines and their ingredients, are two of several possible actions that seven in ten or more say would be meaningful.
Attitudes Toward the Nuclear Deal
Iranians’ views are mixed regarding how likely it is that Iran and the United States will agree on how both would return to full compliance with the JCPOA, but if agreement is reached, two thirds doubt that the United States will meet its commitments under the deal. Confidence in the other P5+1 countries doing so, however, has increased significantly since Trump was in the White House, up from three in ten to nearly half.
Large majorities believe that if the United States and Iran do both begin fulfilling their JCPOA obligations, Iran’s economy and foreign relations will improve. If the JCPOA is not restored, though, only around a third think Iran’s economy and trade relations will worsen from what they are now. Another third thinks they will improve, even without the JCPOA.
A modest majority thinks Iran’s negotiators should let the Europeans try to get more flexibility from the United States, without making more concessions themselves. Only about a quarter want Iran to show more flexibility to get the JCPOA restored soon. Even fewer say that Iran’s new government should not try to get the deal restored.
Asked about two possible assurances that United States could offer, large majorities found each one meaningful: (1) a commitment to not interfere with a European system to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran, or (2) a JCPOA mechanism to monitor the compliance of each of the parties, as well as Iran. In the absence of any such assurances, about a quarter thinks Iran should formally withdraw; a third think Iran should hold to the status quo; and three in ten think Iran should gradually return toward full compliance.
Iran’s Role in the Region
Military and Diplomatic Choices
Large majorities want to see Iran continue discussions with other Middle Eastern countries to de-escalate tensions, and almost half would like to see these expand. Regionally, a growing majority prefers that in general, Iran seek mutually acceptable solutions through negotiations; four in ten prefer that Iran seek to become the most powerful country in the region. Four in ten want Iran to encourage a diplomatic solution in Yemen, while another quarter want Iran not to be involved; only a quarter want Iran to aid a push for a Houthi victory. On Iraq, three in five have the impression that Iran provides weapons, advisors and some volunteers, but only one in six believe Iran is sending its own military forces. Over three in five want Iran to have some military involvement in Iraq, including personnel.
Attitudes toward Missiles and Military Forces
Seven in ten call Iran’s development of missiles very important; three in five look on it as a deterrent against attack. As to using Iran’s own uniformed military, four in five think it justified to deploy the military against terrorist groups, or to protect Shi’a sites and pilgrims. A smaller majority (less than three in five) think it would be justified to use these forces to increase the costs to the United States for its presence in the region.
Expectations about Afghanistan
Over three in five see the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as good for Iran, though just a bare majority thinks it will be good for Iran’s own security. Over seven in ten have a very unfavorable view of the Taliban. Three in five expect refugee flows from Afghanistan into Iran to increase; however, there is no similar expectation about drug traffic. A narrow plurality thinks Iran should now seek to increase its influence in Afghanistan, while four in ten disagree.
Views of Other Countries and Organizations in the Mideast
Among a range of Middle Eastern actors, Saudi Arabia is viewed most unfavorably by Iranians. The Taliban’s negative rating is almost as high. Only about half view Yemen’s Houthis favorably, but two in three view Lebanon’s Hizbollah favorably. The Popular Mobilization Forces of Iraq—a loosely knit federation of militias sponsored by the Iraqi government—is seen favorably by over three in five.
Images of the United States’ Knowledge and Power in the Region
Large majorities of Iranians perceive the United States as a major Middle East actor, with extensive foreknowledge of events and the capacity to shape them in many cases. In the strongest case of this attitude, almost two in three think the United States had prior knowledge of Saddam Hussein’s 1980 invasion of Iran and could have helped Iran prevent it; nine in ten think that at least the United States had foreknowledge. In the least strong example, four in ten think the United States could have helped Iran prevent the 2017 terrorist attacks in Tehran; three quarters, though, think the United States had foreknowledge.
Social Issues in Iran
Iranians’ Sources of News; Social Media Networks
Most Iranians do not appear to be passive consumers of state news outlets. While domestic television channels are Iranians’ most widely used news source, the number of frequent viewers appears to have dropped dramatically in the past five years. Almost as many now use social media as well. About a quarter view satellite news channels. One in five follow BBC and Voice of America, with BBC getting the lion’s share of this audience.
Where accuracy is concerned, half of Iranians assess domestic TV as accurate most of the time, while the other half do not. The public’s ratings of social media’s news accuracy are much lower than those for domestic TV; those for BCC and VOA are lower still.
A third say that the government should never close down social networks; another fifth say this should not take place unless there is already widespread unrest and violence. Four in ten are open to the government closing down social networks in a preemptive fashion.
Water Shortages and Climate Change
Almost half have been personally affected a lot by 2021’s water shortages, and another three in ten have been affected a little. Almost nine in ten are concerned that global climate change will harm them personally during their lifetimes. At the same time, though, three in five assign the main blame for water shortages to government mismanagement, and only a third see climate change as their primary cause. Though about three quarters of Iranians live in urban areas, a majority think that in the short term the government should allocate more water to farmers, even if this brings shortages to the cities; only a third support allocating more water to the cities if this is at farmers’ expense.
Women’s Situation and Human Rights
While only a third have heard about an upcoming bill in the parliament tackling domestic violence against women, support is near-unanimous among those who have heard of it. Three quarters of those who have heard of the bill think that its passage would reduce domestic violence at least somewhat. On human rights in general, a majority believes that foreign sanctions related to human rights issues have had no effect on the human rights situation, while another third thinks they have hurt it.
Iran’s Political Scene
Political Figures’ Favorability
Of the eight figures asked about in this study, the new president Raisi is viewed favorably by the greatest number. In second place is Mohammad Ghalibaf, current Speaker in the Majlis, followed by former foreign minister under Rouhani, Javad Zarif. Least popular among figures evaluated is former president Rouhani, whose popularity began to rapidly sink after the nuclear deal faltered.
The June Presidential Election
After June’s presidential election, about three in five Iranians now think the election law and its processes should be changed. Those calling the Guardian Council—which vets and disqualifies candidates --“very fair and impartial” have dropped from one half to one quarter, compared to views after the 2017 presidential election. While three in five say the Council was at least somewhat fair, this is down from four in five in 2017. This dissatisfaction with how the election was run is independent, however, of views of the election outcome. While just a little over half were satisfied with the final list of candidates for president, seven in ten are satisfied with the result. Only a third believe that Raisi could have been beaten by another candidate, even if those disqualified had been permitted to run.
Trust in Authorities and the Constitutional System
Asked about their trust in various local and national authorities, the highest score went to the regular military (Artesh), with nine in ten expressing some or a great deal of trust. The lowest level of trust went to local elected officials: respondents’ own parliament member and their city or village councilors (six in ten for each). Trust in the Majlis as a whole, at three quarters, is somewhat higher than trust in the respondent’s local member. The judiciary as a whole is also more trusted (eight in ten) than are local courts (seven in ten). Only about one in six believe that Iran’s constitution and system of government will significantly change within the next decade.
Attitudes toward Demonstrations
A little over half of Iranians perceive demonstrations and protests as having increased over the past ten years, both in frequency and geographic spread. Two thirds think the demonstrations’ objectives have been mostly to demand that officials pay greater attention to people’s problems; only one in ten perceive them as seeking to bring about change in Iran’s system of government. Majorities think that over the coming five years, demonstrations will become less frequent and less widespread, while four in ten think they will either stay at present levels or grow.