Iranian Public Opinion at the Start of the Biden Administration: Report

Nancy Gallagher, Clay Ramsay, Ebrahim Mohseni
Content Type
Working Paper
Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM)
This report covers findings from two surveys fielded in September and early October 2020 and late January through early February 2021 to assess how Iranians were faring as the covid-19 pandemic intensified the challenges their country was already facing, what they thought about the parliamentary election in Iran and the presidential election in the United States, and how the inauguration of Joe Biden impacted their attitudes towards nuclear diplomacy and regional security. Iran was one of the earliest countries to be hard-hit by the novel coronavirus, with the country’s first cases confirmed on February 13, 2020, two days before the parliamentary election, senior officials among those soon infected, and high death rates reported. Western reporting depicted widespread government incompetence and cover-ups exacerbating the pandemic’s toll. As in other countries, Iranian officials struggled to decide whether to close schools, curtail economic activities, and restrict religious observances in hopes of slowing the virus’ spread, but cases and deaths remained high through 2020. When we fielded the first survey wave, the daily number of new confirmed covid-19 cases in Iran was starting to climb sharply again after having been relatively flat since May. Some world leaders, including the U.N. Secretary General, called for an easing of sanctions on Iran as part of global efforts to fight the pandemic. The United States, which had withdrawn from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018, maintained that medicine, personal protective equipment, and other humanitarian supplies were exempt from the steadily increasing sanctions applied as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign. But, the United States’ designation in September 2019 of the Central Bank of Iran as a terrorist organization made most foreign suppliers of humanitarian goods reluctant to sell to Iran. A decision in October 2020 to also designate the few Iranian banks that were not previously subject to secondary sanctions further impeded humanitarian trade, caused another sharp drop in the value of Iran’s currency, and had other negative economic effects. The Trump administration’s stated objective was to keep imposing more sanctions until Iran acquiesced 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 included stopping development of nuclear-capable missiles and ending support for various groups throughout the Middle East.
Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Public Opinion, International Community
Political Geography
Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America