New Study finds that majorities of Iranians agree with protestors' critiques of government economic performance, corruption

February 02, 2018

Update: The full report, "Iranian Public Opinion after the Protests" was published in July 2018.

In the wake of widespread protests in Iran, very large majorities of Iranians are critical of their government for economic mismanagement and corruption, yet equally large majorities reject the idea that Iran’s political system needs to undergo fundamental change, according to a new survey by the University of Maryland. 

The study also found that majorities of Iranians also disagree with complaints voiced by some protestors about Iran’s involvements in Iraq and Syria and the amount of money spent on developing missiles. On the nuclear deal, the survey found shrinking confidence that the U.S. will abide by its terms and softening support for the accord in general. Large majorities say that this experience makes them more reluctant to support new concessions in negotiations with world powers.

The recent Iranian protests occurred at a time when a growing majority of Iranians say the economy is bad (69%, up from 63% in June 2018) and getting worse (58%, up from 50% in June). Only 17 percent say the economic condition of their family has improved over the past four years, and 75 percent say the nuclear deal has not improved the living conditions of the Iranian people.

Consequently, large majorities sympathize with complaints voiced by some protestors that the government is not doing enough to help the poor (73%), that it should do more to keep food prices from increasing (95%), and that it should compensate people who lost money when some financial institutions in Iran collapsed (81%).

An overwhelming majority (96%) want the government to do more to fight financial and bureaucratic corruption. Sixty-three percent say that domestic economic mismanagement and corruption have greater negative effects on their county’s economy than sanctions do. The percentage blaming sanctions, though is higher now (32%) than in May 2015 (26%), before the JCPOA was signed and nuclear-related sanctions were to be lifted.

At the same time, large majorities reject other complaints voiced by some protestors that Iran’s political system needs to undergo fundamental change (77% disagree) or that its current level of involvement in Iraq and Syria is not in Iran’s national interests (61% disagree).

On the government’s response to the protests, only 14 percent say the police were too forceful. Views about how arrested protestors should be treated depend on how they acted.  For “peaceful protestors who were chanting slogans against government policies,” two thirds (65%) think most should be released. Majorities, however, support severe punishment for those who attacked the police (64%) or damaged public property (60%). Sixty-three percent favored harsh punishment for those who burned Iran’s flag.

While a majority (55%) still supports the JCPOA, approval is down 12 points since June 2017. Sixty percent believe that the United States has not lifted all sanctions it agreed to lift, up from 39 percent before Trump took office.

An overwhelming majority (85%) regard President Trump’s policies toward Iran as hostile, (69% completely hostile, up from 50% in December 2016). Confidence that the United States will honor its JCPOA commitments has dropped dramatically since Trump refused to certify the nuclear deal; 64 percent are not confident at all, up from 46 percent in May 2017.

Iranians are nearing unanimity (93%) that the United States is violating its obligation to let other countries normalize their trade and economic relations with Iran (up from 81% in June 2017). Favorability ratings of all P5+1 countries besides the United States have improved and a clear majority (60%) express confidence that these countries will uphold their end of the bargain.  However, seventy-three percent think that European countries are not moving as rapidly as they can to invest and trade with Iran, primarily out of their fear of the United States. 

When asked about the lessons of the JCPOA agreement for Iran, two in three (67%) say the JCPOA experience shows that it is not worthwhile for Iran to make concessions when negotiating with world powers, because Iran cannot have confidence that if it makes a concession, world powers will honor their side of the agreement. More broadly, a growing majority (67%) say Iran should strive to achieve economic self-sufficiency (up 10 points since February 2016).

“Current U.S. policies are undermining the Iranian nuclear deal and making it less likely that Iran will work with Western powers to address a range of outstanding challenges in the Middle East,” says CISSM Director Nancy Gallagher.

Accordingly, most Iranians oppose renegotiating the nuclear deal or providing any concessions regarding Iran’s missile program. Sixty-four percent oppose lengthening the duration of special limits that the nuclear deal placed on Iran’s nuclear program, even if Trump offered to lift more sanctions. A large majority—70 percent—say if Trump threatens to reimpose sanctions lifted by the JCPOA unless Iran agrees to stop developing advanced missiles, Iran should refuse.

On Iran’s role in the Middle East, about half (49%) say Iran should try to find mutually acceptable solutions to regional problems, while another 46 percent think that Iran should instead seek to become the most powerful country in the region. Most Iranians (77%) want Iran to use its influence in Iraq to support policies that benefit Shiites and Sunnis, rather than those that primarily benefit Shiites (14%).

Now that Iran and Russia have declared victory over ISIS in Syria, almost as many Iranians want to end assistance to President Bashar Assad (15%) or reduce it (30%) as want to continue it until his government regains full control over all Syrian territory (48%). A large majority (87%), nevertheless, says Iran should either increase (55%) or maintain (32%) its current level of support for groups fighting terrorist groups like ISIS. The favorability rating for General Qasem Soleimani, the commander who leads Iran’s regional operations, is at an all-time high, with 65 percent holding a very favorable opinion of him.

The Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) conducted the survey in conjunction with, an independent, Toronto-based polling organization. Telephone interviews of 1,002 Iranians were done January 16–24, 2018. The margin of error was +/- 3.1%.

View the questionnaire and data.