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Abstract: In a new survey of the Iranian public, a solid majority of Iranians support their government pursuing a deal with the P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear program. However, most assume that the United States would lift all of its sanctions on Iran, and the majority say that unless the United States agrees to remove all of its sanctions, Iran should not agree to a deal. The data for this study was collected by two independent survey research organizations: the University of Tehran Center for Public Opinion Research (UTCPOR), which collected majority of the data calling respondents from Tehran, and IranPoll.com, an independent Toronto-based opinion research firm, which conducted a portion of the study’s interviews from Canada. The investigators then cross-validated the results obtained from these two independent survey organizations and confirmed inter-agency reliability on every variable. The poll was conducted from May 12, 2015 to May 28, 2015, with a sample size of 1,009 and a margin of error of +/- 3.2%.
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.