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  • Author: Nancy Gallagher, Ebrahim Mohseni, Clay Ramsay
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM)
  • Abstract: The Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) has been conducting in- depth surveys of Iranian public opinion on nuclear policy, regional security, economics, domestic politics, and other topics since the summer of 2014. Each survey includes a combination of trend-line questions, some going as far back as 2006, and new questions written to assess and inform current policy debates. This report covers findings from three surveys fielded in May, August, and early October 2019 to evaluate how the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign is affecting public opinion in Iran. The United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018, and began re-imposing sanctions on Iran that the Obama administration had lifted under the terms of the 2015 agreement it had negotiated with Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. In the fall of 2018, it blacklisted hundreds of Iranian entities and threatened to impose secondary sanctions on anyone who did business with them. In spring of 2019, it tried to prevent Iran from getting any revenue from oil sales, its main export, by ending exemptions for key customers. In the summer of 2019, it tightened constraints on Iran’s access to the international financial system, including channels that had been used to pay for medicines and other humanitarian goods that were officially exempted from earlier sanctions. It also sanctioned Iran’s foreign minister, complicating his ability to interact with U.S. officials, experts, and media figures. The Trump administration’s stated objective is to keep imposing more sanctions until Iran acquiesces to a long list of U.S. demands articulated by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The original twelve points include the types of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program that the government rejected during previous negotiations and that the Iranian public has consistently opposed. It also includes stopping development of nuclear-capable missiles, ending support for various groups throughout the Middle East, halting cyberattacks and other threatening activities, and releasing all U.S. and allied detainees. Pompeo subsequently added other demands related to civil liberties in Iran. The Iranian public enthusiastically supported the JCPOA when it was first signed, partly due to unrealistic expectations about how much and how quickly economic benefits would materialize. After the International Atomic Energy Agency certified in January 2016 that Iran had met all of its nuclear obligations and implementation of sanctions relief began, foreign companies were slow to ramp up permissible trade with Iran or to make major investments there before they knew how the next U.S. president would view the JCPOA. By the end of the Obama administration few Iranians said that they had seen any economic benefits from the deal and most lacked confidence that the other signatories would uphold their obligations. But a solid majority of Iranians (55%) still approved of the agreement.
  • Topic: Arms Control and Proliferation, Diplomacy, International Cooperation, Nuclear Weapons, Military Strategy, JCPOA
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Nancy Gallagher, Clay Ramsay, Ebrahim Mohseni
  • Publication Date: 02-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM)
  • Abstract: Summary of Findings 1. Views of the Rouhani Administration President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif enjoy high levels of popular support in Iran. Nearly 8 in 10 Iranians say they have a favorable opinion of Rouhani and Zarif. Yet the intensity of their popularity has substantially eroded since August 2015. With Iran’s parliamentary elections only about a month away, 6 in 10 Iranians continue to want Rouhani supporters to win, while a growing minority favors his critics. Though Rouhani receives high marks for improving Iran’s security and deepening Iran’s relations with European countries, views of the economy are mixed. An increasing majority of Iranians think that Rouhani has not been successful in reducing unemployment. Iranians are also substantially less optimistic about Iran’s economy, with less than half now thinking that the economy is getting better. 2. Iran’s February 2016 Parliamentary Elections Four in ten Iranians voice confidence that the upcoming Majlis (Iran’s Parliament) elections will be very fair, and another four in ten assume it will be somewhat free and fair. Two thirds are highly confident they will vote in the upcoming elections for the Majlis and the Assembly of Experts. The most important issues Iranians want the new Majlis to tackle are unemployment and Iran’s low performing economy. 3. 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 plurality expects that civil liberties will increase at least somewhat over the next two years. 4. Approval for Nuclear Deal Seven in ten Iranians approve of the nuclear deal, though enthusiasm has waned somewhat. The deal garners support from majorities of those who favor Rouhani’s critics in the Majlis election, as well as those who favor his supporters. Two thirds still think the Iranian leadership negotiated a good deal for Iran, though the number of those disagreeing has risen to one in five. The number who believes it was a win for Iran has also declined, while the number who believes it was a victory for both sides has risen and is now a majority. 5. Perceptions of the Nuclear Deal Substantial numbers of Iranians now have a more accurate picture of the deal than they did in August 2015. About half (up from a third) now realizes that Iran has accepted limits on its nuclear research. Almost half (up from a quarter) now knows that many US sanctions are not covered by the agreement and will continue. However, growing majorities continue to believe incorrectly that Iranian military sites cannot be inspected under any conditions. A majority also believes that the US has agreed to not impose new sanctions to replace the ones that were removed as part of the nuclear deal. 6. Expectations of Economic Benefits Three in five Iranians expect that the nuclear deal will eventually result in improvements in their own economic well-being. This sentiment is shared by a majority of those who support Rouhani’s critics in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Majorities expect to see, within a year, better access to medical products from abroad, more foreign investment, and significant improvements in unemployment and the overall economy, though these majorities have declined from August 2015. 7. The Nuclear Deal’s Effect on Iran’s Foreign Relations A large majority of Iranians thinks that Iran’s relations with European countries have already improved as a result of the nuclear deal, but only one in three thinks Iran’s relations with the United States have improved. 8. Views of US Cooperation in the Nuclear Deal Six in ten Iranians are not confident that the US will live up to its obligations under the nuclear agreement and do not think the US will accept other countries cooperating with Iran’s civilian nuclear sector, as provided for under the deal. Half assume the US will use pressure and sanctions to extract more concessions from Iran—up from only a quarter in August 2015. 9. Views of the Nuclear Program Just as in past years, four in five Iranians see the development of an Iranian nuclear program as very important, and three in four see this program as being for purely peaceful purposes. Four in five continue to favor the idea of a Middle East nuclear-free zone that would require all countries in the Middle East, including Israel, not to have nuclear weapons. 10. Iran’s Involvement in Syria and Fighting ISIS Large majorities of Iranians approve of Iran being involved in Syria and strongly support countering ISIS, preserving Iran’s influence in the region, and countering Saudi, American, and Israeli influence. Overwhelming majorities approve of Iran fighting ISIS directly. Large majorities also approve of Iran supporting Shiite and Kurdish groups fighting ISIS and providing support to Iranian allies in the region. Strengthening the Assad government gets more modest support and is seen as a secondary goal for Iran. Two in three Iranians approve of sending Iranian military personnel to help Assad fight against armed Syrian rebels, including ISIS. 11. Views of US Involvement in Syria A large majority of Iranians disapproves of US involvement in Syria. US involvement in Syria is widely perceived as being primarily motivated by a desire to topple the Assad government, to increase US influence and power in the region, to protect Israeli and Saudi interests, and to decrease Iran’s influence and power in the region. Views are divided about whether the United States is seeking to protect Syrian civilians, to end the conflict, to prevent the conflict from spreading, or to fight ISIS. A modest majority says US efforts against ISIS are not at all sincere. A bare majority supports direct cooperation with the United States to counter ISIS in Iraq. 12. Views of Other Nations Involved in Syria Large majorities of Iranians approve of the involvement in Syria of Russia and Hezbollah, and seven in ten express confidence that Russia’s efforts against ISIS are sincerely motivated. However, large majorities disapprove of the involvement in Syria of Turkey, France, and, especially, Saudi Arabia. Large majorities say that the Saudis’ efforts against ISIS are insincere; views of the sincerity of the efforts by Turkey and France are less negative. A large majority has a negative view of Saudi efforts to create a coalition against terrorism, primarily because Saudi Arabia is seen as a supporter of ISIS. 13. International Collaboration on Syria and ISIS Despite their suspicions of other countries operating in the region, eight in ten Iranians approve of Iran participating in the international talks on the conflict in Syria. Of those who know about the Vienna agreement, seven in ten approve of it. 14. Views of Other Countries Iranians view their country’s allies, notably Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Hezbollah, favorably, and view Saudi Arabia and Turkey increasingly unfavorably. Views of Russia and China are generally favorable and have improved considerably over time. Western countries, with the exception of Germany, are viewed unfavorably, with Britain and the US viewed negatively by large majorities in Iran. In contrast, a majority has a favorable opinion of the American people.
  • Topic: International Cooperation, Nuclear Weapons, Terrorism, Geopolitics, ISIS, Hezbollah
  • Political Geography: Britain, Russia, United States, China, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Nancy Gallagher, Clay Ramsay, Ebrahim Mohseni
  • Publication Date: 06-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM)
  • Abstract: View the survey questionnaire and trend tables.This survey is one in a series of surveys related to Iran that CISSM has conducted since 2013. View the complete list of surveys. Summary of Findings 1. Iran’s Nuclear Program Overwhelming majorities of Iranians continue to say that it is very important for Iran to have a nuclear program. The nuclear program is seen as one of Iran’s greatest achievements. A large majority continues to see the program as driven purely by peaceful goals, though one in five see it as being an effort to pursue nuclear weapons. This support for Iran’s nuclear program appears to be driven by a combination of symbolic and economic considerations. However, while a majority sees the program as being an important way for Iran to stand up to the West, serving Iran’s future energy and medical needs is seen as more important. 2. Views on Nuclear Weapons A large and growing majority of Iranians express opposition to nuclear weapons in various ways. Two thirds now say that producing nuclear weapons is contrary to Islam. Eight in ten approve of the NPT goal of eliminating nuclear weapons and establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. Consistent with these views, Iranians express opposition to chemical weapons, with nine in ten approving of Iran’s decision, during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, to not use chemical weapons in response to Iraq’s use of them. 3. Iran - P5+1 Nuclear Deal Given information about the nuclear deal being negotiated between Iran and the P5+1, a substantial majority favors it and only one in six oppose it. A quarter, though, are undecided or equivocal. Nearly three in four are optimistic that Iran and the P5+1 will arrive at a deal in regard to Iran’s nuclear program. Three in four think the Majlis (Iran’s Parliament) should have a say on a nuclear deal. 4. The Potential Removal of Sanctions The support for Iran pursuing a deal with the P5+1 appears to rest to some extent on the assumption—held by a large majority—that all sanctions on Iran would be lifted as part of the deal, and there is optimism that the sanctions would in fact be lifted. Approximately half of respondents say Iran should not agree to a deal unless the U.S. lifts all of its sanctions, while nearly as many say Iran should be ready to make a deal even if the U.S. retains some sanctions, provided all UN and EU sanctions are lifted. Among those who believe that all U.S. sanctions would be lifted, support for a deal is nearly two thirds, while among those who assume that the U.S. will retain some sanctions, support is a bare majority. The removal of UN sanctions is seen as more important than the removal of U.S. sanctions. 5. Expectations About Positive Effects of a Deal Iranians express high expectations that a nuclear deal would result in significant positive effects in the near term. Majorities say they would expect to see, within a year, better access to foreign medicines and medical equipment, significantly more foreign investment, and tangible improvement in living standards. 6. The Sanctions and Iran’s Economy The sanctions on Iran are overwhelmingly perceived as having a negative impact on the country’s economy and on the lives of ordinary people. However, views of the economy are fairly sanguine and have been improving. Also, the impact of the sanctions is seen as limited and a lesser factor affecting the economy as compared to domestic mismanagement and corruption. 7. Views of Rouhani As Iran’s parliamentary elections near, Iran’s President Rouhani is clearly one of the strongest political figures in Iran. Half would prefer to see Rouhani supporters win in the February 2016 parliamentary elections, while one quarter favors his critics. However, Rouhani supporters have high expectations that a deal removing all U.S. sanctions and bringing rapid economic change is going to take place. If a deal is reached that does not meet these expectations, Rouhani could be left politically vulnerable. In a hypothetical presidential match-up, Rouhani currently does better than former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by two to one. Large majorities say Rouhani has been at least somewhat successful in improving the economic situation, improving Iran’s relations with European countries, and reducing sanctions. Three in four Iranians say that if the negotiations were to fail to produce a final agreement, they would only or mostly blame the P5+1 countries. 8. Relations with the U.S. Views of the United States, especially the U.S. government, continue to be quite negative. Only four in ten believe that U.S. leaders genuinely believe that Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Asked why the U.S. is imposing sanctions on Iran, the most common answers portray the U.S. as seeking to confront and dominate Iran; very few mention concerns about nuclear weapons. However, a slight majority has a positive view of the American people. If Iran and the P5+1 reach a deal, a large majority believes that the U.S. will still impede other countries from cooperating with Iran, and a slight majority believes that Iran making concessions on the nuclear issue will likely lead the U.S. to seek more concessions. Just one in six believe that concessions would be likely to lead to greater accommodation; however, this number is higher than a year ago. Large majorities favor various confidence-building measures between Iran and the U.S., including greater trade, which is more widely supported than a year ago. People-to-people confidence-building measures are especially popular. A majority thinks that it is possible for Islam and the West to find common ground. 9. Views of P5+1 Countries Two thirds say they do not trust the P5+1 countries—however, the minority expressing trust has increased since fall 2014. Views of specific countries vary: large majorities have negative views of the UK and the U.S.; modest majorities have unfavorable views of Russia and France, while views are divided on Germany and China. 10. Views of Regional Actors A very large majority has an unfavorable view of Saudi Arabia—even slightly more negative than views of the U.S. A slight majority now has an unfavorable view of Turkey, which was not the case a year ago. Large majorities continue to view Syria and Iraq favorably.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, International Cooperation, Nuclear Weapons, Regional Cooperation, Sanctions
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Middle East, Saudi Arabia