Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Silent Majority in the Islamic Republic of Iran?

World Public Opinion.org recently took a poll of Iranians living in Iran, over subjects that included Iranian politics, world relations and Iran's nuclear program. The results have surprised many Western analysts, while some questioned the truthfulness of the poll's Iranian respondents.

WPO conducted the poll of 1,003 Iranians across Iran between Aug. 27 and Sept. 10, 2009. The margin of error is 3.1%. Telephone surveys were conducted by a professional survey organization calling in from outside Iran in Farsi.

- Full WPO Iran Report (PDF)
- Iranian Public on Current Issues Questionnaire with Findings (PDF)
- Iranians on their Nuclear Program Questionnaire with Findings (PDF)

Selected poll results:
- Most Iranians express acceptance of the outcome of the Presidential election. Eighty-one percent say they consider Ahmadinejad to be Iran's legitimate president, and 62 percent say they have a lot of confidence in the declared election results.

- Among the 87 percent of respondents who say they voted in the June presidential election, 55 percent say they voted for Ahmadinejad. Only 14 percent say they voted for Mir Hossein Mousavi, the leading opposition candidate.

- Eight in 10 say Ahmadinejad is honest.

- Overall most Iranians express support for their current system of government. Nine in ten say they are satisfied with Iran's system of government.

Reactions to the poll results:
Professor Farideh Farhi: "If I were in Iran and someone called me to ask those direct questions, I would be leery of answering them honestly or directly. I have to ask whether fear may have been a factor in the results."

Jim Lobe: "Some analysts, notably neo-conservatives closely identified with Israel, have asserted that negotiations are a waste of time and that the regime has become so unpopular that imposing tough sanctions now could bring about its collapse. The WPO survey, however, casts serious doubt on the latter assumption, in particular. In addition to the broad acceptance of Ahmadinejad as the "legitimate president", the poll found a relatively high degree of confidence in the country's main governing institutions."

Mark Pyruz: "These poll results remind me of a period of American history I lived through during the late 1960's, early '70's. The civil rights and antiwar protests were regular events. There were massive demonstrations, violent police crackdowns, even a number of protesters shot and killed by security forces. The most radical of the demonstrators were openly calling for a revolution. Yet during that time, there emerged an American politician that claimed these protesters did not represent America. He declared that there was a "silent majority" that rejected this kind of thing, were even repulsed by it. And he was proven right. He was elected president. And during the height of the demonstrations, he was actually reelected by a substantial landslide. So to me, these WPO poll results suggest the possibility of an Iranian "silent majority'."
Chicago Pre-Election 1968 / Tehran Post-Election 2009
Kent State Shooting 1970 / Neda on YouTube 2009



Nader Uskowi said...

A word of caution: the "silent majority" construct normally does not work in non-democratic societies. By definition, vast majorities of people under non-democratic governments are "silent." In Iran's case, we had seen the phenomenon under the shah, until the very last year of the monarchy. Then millions came out and marched to topple the shah.

Mark Pyruz said...

Nader, that's definitely something to take into consideration.

However, the poll results suggest differently, with a majority saying they have a lot of confidence in the declared election results, which implies their belief in an Iranian form of democracy.

During the Shah's reign, there were no national elections for head of state, nor were there polls of this kind.

Now I do not rule out Prof. Farhi's explanation of fear.

But by the same token, I do not rule out the possibility of an Iranian "silent majority". For example, there is a photo of Mousavi at the recent Quds day rally, where an ordinary Iranian man (with a child in his arms, no less) openly accosts the leader of the Green movement. That, to me, is telling.

There is definitely a political divide in Iran, and this WPO poll pretty much represents the only hard data available at the moment. Interpretations are certainly open to debate.

One more historical comparison derived from my experiences in America during the protest movements of the 60's and 70's: at the time, the American "silent majority" actually considered the demonstrators to be elements of communist subversion. They really believed it! This is very similar to the claim levied against the Green movement, only in this particular reference the Greens are accused of being part of a Western directed conspiracy.

Nader Uskowi said...


The government enjoys not only the ownership of the mass media but critical cultural/communications centers, like the mosques. Naturally, they own the information/disinformation space. Not surprised if a majority link the Green movement to a Western conspiracy.

Added to Green movement's problems is the attitude of the left in Iran. In their calculations, US, and to some extent the West, is the enemy and if the Islamic Republic is anti-US or anti-West, then all power to them. Notwithstanding their anti-democratic nature, they are anti-US/West (read anti-Imperialism) and hence they need to be supported.

Having said that, the Green movement has its own very serious shortcomings. No effective leadership (Mousavi has been thrown into this leadership role, cannot possibly last for long. No effective program, not enough to challenge the ruling elite, etc.

I do believe that we have entered a state of equilibrium in Iran. The government, relying on probably the "silent majority" is not strong enough to get rid of the Greens; the movement also is not strong enough to topple the government. This situation cannot and will not last long, probably will be decided on government's terms (after all, they have IRGC/Basij).

But from within this struggle, a real democratic movement can be born: its own leaders, its own independent program.

Fascinating days in Iran!

Anonymous said...

come on guyes, I voted mussavi and i knew then the margin was 3-2 for Ahmadi, Took part in the first demo but as the first stone was thrown, me and almost all my friends left and never demonstrated again, knowing it to be fishy.

The polls are more or less correct, and Iranians in Iran do not fear anything or anyone.

We might express fear, if we need to convince a judge in Europe or the USA for the sake of "Assylum"
but the truth of the matter is, Iranians know what they are doing.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous except the last part and the reason Ahmadinejad was so much supported was because Iran is under threat and he can stand up to the 3 western countries and Mussavi and his people can not.

Jonathan said...

This is an interesting survey that certainly casts a degree of doubt over my perceptions of the reactions of Iranians, however; I feel that there is still a possibility that the information does not accurately portray the majority opinion.

Some statistics that I just want to mention first-

While the survey used a stratified sample (proportional to population in each province), it only surveyed households with landlines. This includes around 19 million households, while ignoring a little over 7 million mobile phone users. Around 2/3 of the population is age 30 and younger (those born since the revolution), and around 25% age 15 and younger (so non-voting would include a slightly larger percentage of the population total of around 70 million, lets say 30%). So around 36% of the population would fall into the age bracket that in the post-election incidents seemed to include the most liberal people (18-30 year olds); and with around a 1/3 of the population having been alive during the revolution. [The reason I state this is, if the trend continues amongst the younger generations, the more conservative older generations will eventually die out, leaving a more liberal group behind. It seems to be getting closer to the tipping point, either way].

I know that this is a leap of sorts, but I feel like it is safe to say that the majority of reformist supporters in Iran seem to be younger (I’ve read numerous articles that discuss this issue; I however don’t really feel like looking for them, I’m sure you can Google it).

Essentially what I’m getting at is that it seems possible that the 36% of voting age Iranians aged 30 and younger are misrepresented by the survey. I highly doubt most Iranian young adults have landlines (I wonder how many of the 7 million mobile phone users are under 30), while it seems more likely that their family homes would. Thus, I would not be surprised if the majority of the people polled in this survey were actually from the generation which had experienced the revolution, lived under the shah, etc, etc. That has a big impact on perception of the government, at least from what I’ve been studying over the past year (I only began actively research Iran earlier this year). Without first-hand experience of the Shah’s regime (and SAVAK); without a real experience of the revolutionary values and ideas that the first Supreme Leader tried to propagate and develop the country upon; with experience of a sometimes repressive regime that controlled private life through religion; with high unemployment; with ‘disappearances’ and murder of civilians; and last, with eventual exposure to all that they didn’t have through the vast expansion of media over the past 2 decades; this younger generation seems to be at least different to a degree than their older relatives.

Of course, all of this is speculation – while I’m attempting to do it in as educated of a manner as possible. Something that I feel would make this survey extremely valuable would be if it HAD collected age statistics (age groups) of the people surveyed – even proportionally sampled based on age and provincial population. Maybe someone out there has done so, or will let the next organization who decides to try and do this type of survey know that it could be beneficial. Thus, for me, I still believe there is a significant chance that a popular movement exists amongst the Iranian people that believes that the current government is illegitimate, and that there are severe problems.

Then there is the possibility that fear influenced responses (something that I doubt can be avoided), which I don’t even want to get in to. I’m sure this is sort of rambling at this point – it’s late and I’m procrastinating reading for class – so maybe someone will take what I’m saying out of here and look it up a little more.

Mark Pyruz said...

Jonathan, Gary Sick made similar comments on the findings. He also discussed the potential fear factor, as well as the advantage the establishment has with control over the media.

The fact remains this is the only hard data available.

There's definitely a political division in the country, and a there are people whose political leanings are not represented in the system. However it remains a possibility that there is a "silent majority" in Iran.

Winston said...

This post is another evidence that you are merely a regime shill. Do you really think the murder of Neda is morally equal to that of the Kent State incident? You have gone morally bankrupt if you think so. Moreover, the WPO poll was paid for by the regime's stooges in the US (I wonder if you're one of them).