New study find that Iranians see Rouhani's election as endorsement of his foreign policy, nuclear deal, but not revolutionary change

July 28, 2017

A new University of Maryland poll, "The Ramifications of Rouhani's Re-election," finds that 8 in 10 Iranians agree that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s re-election means most Iranians approve of his foreign policy and the nuclear deal he negotiated with the P5+1 countries. Less than a quarter (24 %) said it signified that most Iranians disapprove of the ideals of the Islamic revolution. (The report was featured as part of an event covered by C-SPAN.)

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed in July 2015, divided those who voted for Rouhani from those who did not. While 81% of Rouhani voters approve of the deal (42% strongly), only 4 in 10 of those who voted for cleric Ebrahim Raisi—Rouhani’s main opponent in the election—approve of the deal (9% strongly).     

After a decline in Iranian enthusiasm about the JCPOA—from 75 percent soon after it was signed to 55 percent after President Trump’s election—support rose to 67 percent during the election process. In presidential TV debates, all candidates supported the deal but argued about who could get Iran more of the promised benefits. 


Iranians are disappointed in the economic gains from the nuclear deal so far. Sixty-three percent say the nuclear deal has not yet improved Iran’s economy, and seven in ten say the deal has not yet improved the living conditions of ordinary Iranians. When asked about the economic condition of their family, only 23 percent of respondents say that it has improved over the last four years, 41 percent say that it has deteriorated, and 36 percent say that it has remained unchanged. In general, 6 in 10 Iranians say that the economic situation of Iran is bad, with 34 percent saying that it is very bad.

“Rouhani’s re-election appears to have consolidated his position and support for his foreign policy of seeking to improve relations with the West, but the public is clearly frustrated with the slow pace of economic improvement,” commented Nancy Gallagher, Director of the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM). 

Pessimism about the economy may explain why the election was close before Mohammad Ghalibaf, the conservative mayor of Tehran, exited the race. Data collected a week before the election suggests that if Ghalibaf had been Rouhani’s main opponent rather than Raisi, the results might have been much closer. Asked about their choice between Rouhani and Ghalibaf, 46 percent of likely voter selected Rouhani and 40 percent said they would vote for Ghalibaf. 

Iranian confidence that the United States will uphold its side of the nuclear deal has dropped sharply. It is currently at 24 percent, down from 45 percent shortly after the deal was signed. Iranians also believe that the United States is seeking to prevent Iran from extracting the anticipated benefits from the deal. When asked whether the United States is honoring its obligation under the JCPOA to allow other countries to normalize their trade and economic relations with Iran, 8 in 10 say that it is not. A majority say that European countries are not moving as rapidly as they can to invest in Iran, primarily out of their fear of the United States. 


Iranians oppose renegotiating the nuclear deal with Trump. A large majority—69 percent—say Iran should refuse to stop uranium enrichment, and 62 percent oppose lengthening the duration of special limits on Iran’s nuclear program, even if Trump offers to lift more sanctions.  More broadly, a growing majority—62 percent—says current changes in the world make it necessary for Iran to have a president who will stand up for Iran’s rights and refuse to compromise. Also, 65 percent think Iran should strive to achieve economic self-sufficiency instead of focusing on increasing its trade with other countries, up 8 points since February 2016. 

Asked about new sanctions that the U.S. Congress is likely to impose because of Iran’s missile tests, help for groups like Hezbollah, and human rights record, 73 percent said they would be against the spirit of the JCPOA, with 49 percent saying they would violate the letter of the agreement as well. Iranians have become firmer that if the United States violates the JCPOA, Iran should retaliate by restarting the aspects of its nuclear program that it has agreed to suspend under the JCPOA. While views were previously divided, 55 percent now hold this view. 

Two thirds of Iranians (67%) reject the notion that Rouhani’s re-election means most Iranians oppose development and testing of missiles by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC); this includes 61percent of Rouhani voters. Consistent with this, 62 percent say Iran should not reduce missile testing in return for the promise of lifting more U.S. and European sanctions. When informed that the United States and some European countries are threatening new sanctions unless Iran stops testing ballistic missiles, 55 percent want Iran to continue testing and insist this issue is not negotiable. Another 31 percent say that Iran should continue testing but offer to negotiate about ways to increase confidence about the nature of Iran’s missile program.

The recent terror attacks in Tehran, for which Iranians primarily blame ISIS, have increased support for some forms of Iranian activity in the Middle East. Sixty-eight percent now want Iran to increase support of groups fighting ISIS—up 12 points from December 2016. Also, 65 percent support Iran sending military personnel to Syria to help the government of Bashar al-Assad in its fight against armed Syrian rebels, including ISIS, roughly unchanged from January 2016. By contrast, support for collaborating with the United States to help the government of Iraq counter ISIS declined further after the terrorist attacks. A solid majority (59%) approved of such collaboration after the JCPOA was signed, but now approval is under 45 percent. This is not surprising given that well over 80 percent of Iranians think that the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel may have given support or guidance to the perpetrators of the attacks in Tehran.

CISSM ran two nationally representative telephone surveys. One, with a sample size of 1,015, was conducted May 8–11, 2017, a week before Iran’s presidential election. The other, with a sample size of 1,004, was conducted June 11–17, 2017, a week after the terror attacks in Tehran. They were fielded by, an independent, Toronto-based polling organization. The margin of error for both polls was +/- 3.1 percent.