Saturday, February 12, 2011

IPI/Charney Research Poll on Iran

A hugely important poll was released in December 2010 for Westerners who are concerned with policy regarding Iran. I read the press release regarding the poll and found it to represent a completely typically distorted Western view of the country and issues around it. But the questions asked did not strike me as at all poorly or misleadingly posed - which means that by ignoring the press release and looking at the responses Iranians gave to the questions posed, one can get probably as clear a view as is possible from outside of where the Iranian public is.

From the press release, that I've already said can well be ignored:
Iranians are divided on the impact of economic sanctions imposed in response to the nuclear program, with roughly half thinking they have had an impact. Far fewer - just one in six -- thinks there is any likelihood America or Israel will attack their nuclear facilities.

“Support for a deal is stronger among Iranians who think sanctions are hurting or that there is a chance of a U.S. or Israeli attack,” said Dr. Charney. “But not enough believe that to produce a majority for either deal.”
Oh my goodness, that is a horrible conclusion to draw. Not enough Iranian believe the sanctions are hurting or that there is a chance of an attack. What Charney misses is that the US has expended a tremendous amount of energy and resources to convince Iranians both that sanctions can hurt Iranian people and that the US is willing to attack Iran over the last year. The real impact of these efforts has been that Iranian support for Iran's nuclear program, across the political spectrum, has increased far more than at least I could have ever guessed over that time period.

Charney would play right into the hands of hard-line Iranians, maybe making Iranian hostility against the United States literally unanimous.

But now, more importantly, to the poll questions and answers:
1. Generally speaking, would you say things in Iran are headed in the right direction or wrong direction?
Right direction...54%
Wrong direction...33%
The United States has begun advancing an idea that Iran refuses to issue a permit for protests to Mousavi because Iran's government is afraid of being toppled the way Egypt's was. The first obvious reason this idea is absurd is that Egypt's protesters did not have permits. The second is that Egypt did not have a substantially greater number of citizens who think the country is heading in the right direction.

Charney might say that the US should somehow increase sanctions to convince Iranians that the country is heading in the wrong direction. All I can say is there is a very good chance such a strategy would backfire and end up harming the US with very little chance of any benefit to offset this damage.
3. How would you rate the work of the national government – excellent, good, fair, or poor?

An interesting result. The country is divided about evenly on this question, assuming we accept that "fair" is properly grouped with "poor" which would be questionable in the English language at least.
4. How would you describe the current economic situation in Iran – is it very good, somewhat good, somewhat bad, or very bad?
Total good...19% (June 2007)...27% (May 2009)...58% (Sept. 2010)
Total bad ...79% (June 2007)...71% (May 2009)...38% (Sept. 2010)
Striking result both in the number and even more in the trend, which can only be described as a drastic swing since 2007 in the direction that the economic situation is good. So striking in fact that it is tempting the call the number an anomaly and to both examine the methods of the survey compared to the previous ones and to look for confirming or disproving further information.

But it is the number we have. Bad polls, in the absence of indications of deliberate fraud or deception, are better and more reliable than guesses or even anecdotal reports of a person and that persons' social group. This group, as we see by Dr. Charney's interpretations, is certainly not biased, and would not be inclined to deliberately falsify a result in favor of the Iranian government. What we can say is that the idea that the people of Iran feel harmed is certainly not confirmed by available poll data.
5. Would you say the economic situation of the country as a whole has in general gotten better, gotten worse, or is about the same as compared to four years ago?
Better ...29% (Sept 2009) ...44% (Sept 2010)
Worse ...45% (Sept 2009) ...32% (Sept 2010)
Another result that optimism is increasing in Iran over the period despite the 2010 round of sanctions that had been started around six months earlier.
6. How would you describe your household’s financial situation: excellent, good, fair, or poor?
Excellent ...2%
Good ...13%
Poor ...34%
Fair is the most common response. Poor is a more common answer than excellent and good put together.
7. Would you say your and your family’s economic situation have in general gotten better, gotten worse, or are about the same as compared to four years ago?
Better ...29% (May 2009)...27% (Sept 2009)...28% (Sept 2010)
Worse...24% (May 2009)...31% (Sept 2009)...33% (Sept 2010)
We saw above a common view that the country is improving, while a majority of people report that their own circumstances are declining. This points to an examination of how people get their ideas of how the rest of the country is doing. The difference between the two numbers is that the amount of people responding that they are doing worse matches the national reports. There is a substantial number of people who did not respond at all about how their family is doing and did respond that the country is doing better. An interesting result.
8. How common do you think corruption is among government officials: very common, fairly common, fairly rare, or very rare?
Total common ...44%
Total rare ...34%
Very interesting result. I've read often that Ahmadinejad has a reputation as, above all else, an honest person who is not using his position for personal gain. This is a hugely enduring trait for a politician to have and, according to many reports, accounts for a large amount of Ahmadinejad's popularity.
9. In the past year, how often, if ever, have you had to do a favor, give a gift or pay a
bribe to a government official in order to get services or a document that the government is supposed to provide: very often, somewhat often, not too often, or not at all?
Paid bribes... 24%
Did not pay bribes ...74%
A trend on this result will be interesting to watch. It will be good to see if this number increases or decreases over time.
10. Do most people that live in the area where you live….
Yes No Don’t know/No response
a) Feel free to express their political opinions? 44% 42% 13%
b) Have real opportunities to improve their lives? 54% 38% 8%
c) Feel the laws and rules are set, clear, and fairly enforced? 47% 44% 9%
d) Have much hope for the future? 60% 31% 9%
Not much to say except that if Hosni Mubarak's regime had these numbers, it certainly would still be in office. It would be very useful to see comparisons on each of these questions both in Iran over time and more interesting among the US colonies in the region of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE and others.
11. Which of the following would you say is the biggest problem that Iran faces from outside our borders?
Economic sanctions ...32%
Threats to territory...21%
Relations with the West...15%
Given the feeling in Iran that it is not suffering economically, that economic sanctions are still the biggest threat indicates a fairly confident population regarding external threats.
12. Who do you perceive as Iran’s closest ally in the region?
Nobody ...17%
Turkey ...14%
Lebanon ...10%
I expect that the answer will easily be Iraq within a few years of the US exit from that country. The US, of course, hopes and is working the prevent Iran from being in a position to perceive Iraq as an ally. I am doubtful these US efforts will succeed.
13. Who do you perceive as Iran’s greatest threat in the region?
USA...38% (May 2009)... 68% (Sept 2010)
Israel ...44% (May 2009)... 4% (Sept 2010)
Nobody ... ... 11% (Sept 2010)
Just a drastic decline in the amount of threat Iranians feel from Israel. I could not even guess at an explanation for this except that I, for the most part agree with the conclusion that Israel could not attack Iran without US permission, and that if the US would give permission to Israel, then before that it would attack Iran itself. So as far as military threats, most Iranians seem to have an accurate conception of where threats emanate. As far as non-military threats, Israel is even less able to harm Iran than militarily.
14. Please tell me if you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable opinion of the following:
i. United States of America
Total favorable ...22% (Dec 2006)...34% (Feb 2008)...29% (May 2009)...8% (Sept 2010)
Total unfavorable ...76% (Dec 2006)...49% (Feb 2008)...56% (May 2009)...87% (Sept 2010)

d. Saudi Arabia
Total favorable ...58% (Feb 2008)...45% (May 2009)...50% (Sept 2010)
Total unfavorable ...24% (Feb 2008)...34% (May 2009)...40% (Sept 2010)
A drastic shift against the United States since the 2009 elections.

Saudi Arabia does not have a substantially different relationship with the US today than its current regime had with the British Empire almost 100 years ago when it was a British protectorate. Iran's people do not express any particular or striking animosity toward that country. There is no big rivalry with that country, while that is not the case regarding Saudi Arabia's colonial patron, the United States.
15. Here are two views:
a. The best way to solve our country’s problems is to form closer connections with the developed Western countries. ... 67%
b. The best way to solve our country’s problems is to reduce our connections with the developed Western countries. ... 22%
I can't vouch for the fairness of this question as it was presented. One of the widely studied logical fallacies is that of the excluded middle where an extreme choice is presented implicitly arguing that there are no alternatives to these extreme choices. Why would either of the presented options be the best way to solve Iran's problems? The best way? Only a Westerner could even think to ask a question like that.
16. Here are some things it’s been suggested the West should do. Let me know how you feel about each. The West should…
a. Speak out about human rights violations in Iran…
Total favorable 55%
Total unfavorable 35%

b. Help nongovernment civic groups in Iran to grow and to train their leaders. Is your opinion of this…
Total favorable 49%
Total unfavorable 39%

c. Increase foreign satellite television broadcasts to Iran with uncensored news. Is your opinion of this…
Total favorable 33%
Total unfavorable 61%
Question B, the one about the West training leaders of Iranian civic groups has a lot of scope for backfiring. I'd be very careful with it as a Western analyst. Further questions are needed, for example, would a leader who had received training from the West be more or less trustworthy. From above, 87% of Iranians have a negative view of the United States. Americans could make a mistake in thinking it would be a good idea for the United States to try to grow and train a lot of leaders of Iranian civic groups. This question needs closer examination.
17. Do you think that Iran should focus more on:
Becoming the leading power in the Middle East ...32%
Solving its domestic problems ...65%

18. Do you think that Iran should focus more on:
Leadership in the Muslim world ...29%
Solving its domestic problems ...67%
About the response you would expect from any population in the world comparing any external issues to solving domestic problems. Certainly close to the response one would get asking this question in the United States.
19. Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose Iran’s financial and military aid to Hamas in the Palestinian Territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon?
Total support...69%
Total oppose ...29%
This is a hugely important result for Western analysts to understand.
20. Western newspapers have reported that Iran gave between $200 and 400 million to Hamas last year and $250 to 500 million to Hezbollah (GIVE FIGURES IN IRANIAN CURRENCY). If this is true, do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose Iran’s financial and military aid to Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon?
Total support... 57%
Total oppose ... 38%
If Iranian newspapers were to calculate the total cost to the US of its support for Israel, it is very unlikely that US support for Israel, in a question like this, is as strong as Iranian support for Hezbollah and Hamas. Again, a very important result for Western analysts to understand.
21. If the Palestinians make a two-state agreement to live in peace with Israel, would you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose Iran accepting the agreement?
Total favor... 58%
Total oppose ... 35%
Westerners like asking this question. If Palestinians accept Israel would the rest of the region accept it is the question. Israel does not seem capable of making a proposal that Palestinians could accept and to skip over that fact can give a misleading impression of the plausibility that Israel can be accepted by the Palestinians or by the region.

There are many more important questions and responses at the link.

Overall, the message is that the consensus US view of Iran's government being fundamentally unpopular, or that the policies that the US wants Iran to change are enacted against the will of the Iranian people is profoundly and dangerously wrong.

Americans and Westerners, even of Iranian descent, should not speak of Iran when there are professionally conducted polls available. The US foreign policy community consistently, with exceptions such as the Leveretts over at raceforiran, are doing a grave disservice to the US in their analysis and recommendations.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Arnold. Good work, as usual.

Of course, now USA is busy supporting 'greeners" while in Egypt they NEVER said nothing serious.

I hope Iran will be OK, and Egypt too, against the USA imperialism adn Zionism

Bahram said...

You can talk to greens about the results of all the independant polls till you go blue in the face, they are never going to believe it because it goes counter to all their beliefs.They only believe what they want to believe and no amount of hard evidense is going to change their minds.