NOTE: CISSM and the Program for Public Consultation previously published several studies on American attitudes toward the nuclear negotiations: "Assessing the Iran Deal" (September 2015), "Negotiations with Iran: Views from a Red State, a Blue State and a Swing State" (June 2015), "Americans on the Iran Nuclear Issue" (March 2015), and "American Attitudes on Negotiations with Iran: A Policymaking Simulation" (July 2014). CISSM has also published related studies of Iranian public opinion, in collaboration with the University of Tehran, "Iranian Public Opinion on the Nuclear Agreement" (September 2015), "Iranian Public Opinion on the Nuclear Negotiations" (June 2015), and "Iranian Attitudes on Nuclear Negotiations" (September 2014).
View a video of the full study release event.
While views of President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif have declined from their heights immediately after the nuclear deal, the two leaders continue to enjoy very high levels of popular support in Iran, and their allies have good prospects in the upcoming elections. Views of the nuclear deal continue to be very positive, though some of its less popular aspects have become more apparent. Going forward there is support for growing engagement with the international community, especially in regard to dealing with the problem of Syria and the fight against ISIS.
A new University of Maryland survey of the Iranian public, "Iranian Attitudes in Advance of the Parliamentary Elections: Economics, Politics, and Foreign Affairs," finds that that nearly 8 in 10 Iranians say they have a favorable opinion of Rouhani (82%) and Zarif (78%). With Iran’s parliamentary elections about a month away, nearly 6 in 10 Iranians (59%) want Rouhani supporters to win. More than seven in ten Iranians still approve of the nuclear deal.
Rouhani’s new efforts to engage with the international community on dealing with the conflict in Syria have received overwhelming support, with 80% approving. Of those who know about the Vienna agreement, seven in ten (72%) approve of it.
Rouhani receives high marks for improving Iran’s security (86%) and deepening its relations with European countries (80%). Two thirds (66%) say relations with Europe have improved and 54% have a favorable view of Germany—up 10 points from 2014. Nonetheless, views of the US continue to be quite negative. Seventy-one percent have an unfavorable view of the US. Only one in three (34%) have confidence that the US will fulfill its obligations under the nuclear deal—down 11 points from September 2015.
Though very large majorities approve of Iran sending military personnel to Syria to help with the fight against ISIS (63%) and approve of military attacks conducted by various countries against ISIS (65%), only a bare majority (51%) approve of cooperating with the United States as both countries try to help the government of Iraq and counter ISIS, down from 59 percent in August 2015, soon after the nuclear deal was signed.
A majority of Iranians (74%) say they disapprove of US involvement in Syria. They see it as primarily motivated by a desire to increase US influence and power in the region (69%), to protect Israeli (63%) and Saudi (50%) interests, to decrease Iran’s influence and power in the region (59%), and to topple the Assad government (53%). Only 17 percent of Iranians believe that US involvement in Syria is primarily motivated by a desire to degrade and defeat ISIS.
Though approval of Rouhani is very high, there are also some negative trends. Those who strongly approve of the nuclear agreement have dropped from 43 percent to 30 percent. An increasing majority thinks that Rouhani has not been successful in reducing unemployment (57%). Iranians have become substantially less optimistic about Iran’s economy, with less than half (47%) now thinking that the economy is getting better compared with 57 percent in August 2015.
Popular expectations about the nuclear deal’s benefits have also declined since the deal was signed. While 6 in 10 (60%) expect to see more foreign investment within a year, this is down 12 points from last year. Fifty-six percent expect better access to medical products from abroad within a year this is down 11 points. While last year 63% expected a tangible improvement in people’s economic conditions as a result of the deal, this has dropped to 51%.
Some of these declines may be related to the Iranian public having a somewhat more accurate understanding of the less popular aspects of the deal than before. About half (49%, up from 33%) now realizes that Iran has accepted limits on its nuclear research. Almost half (44%, up from 30%) also knows that many US sanctions are not covered by the agreement and will continue. Yet, a growing majority continues to believe incorrectly that under the deal the IAEA is not permitted to inspect Iranian military sites under any conditions (64%).
One factor that may contribute to Iranian motivations to participate in international negotiations over the future of Syria is an intense concern about ISIS. An extraordinarily high 98% have a very unfavorable view of ISIS. Nine in ten (87%) Iranians approve Iran supporting Shiite groups that are fighting ISIS. Interestingly, an equal proportion (88%) also approve of Iran helping Kurdish groups that are fighting ISIS, despite the fact that these Kurdish groups are predominantly Sunni.
“While it is widely assumed that Iran cares more about preserving Bashar Assad’s hold on power than anything else,” said Nancy Gallagher, interim Director of the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM), “this study reveals that Iranians are significantly more concerned about the rise of ISIS than Assad’s hold on power.”
While there have been suggestions that the Iranian people would want to spend the frozen funds released with the end of sanctions only on domestic priorities, two thirds (66%) say that Iran should send at least a little of these funds to allies abroad, who would presumably include groups like the Syrian government, Hezbollah, and Shiite militias in Iraq, all of which are fighting ISIS.
The telephone poll of 1,012 Iranians was conducted December 29, 2015 – January 15, 2016 for the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland by IranPoll.com, an independent, Toronto-based polling organization. The margin of error was +/- 3.2%.
View the full report.
View the questionnaire and frequency tables.