by Jim Lobe
The Iranian public is losing confidence that the United States will abide by the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), according to the latest in a series of polls undertaken by the Center for International and Security Studies (CISSM) at the University of Maryland.
The new poll, the first taken by CISSM since last month’s parliamentary elections, found widespread and broad-based support for President Hassan Rouhani. Sixty-three percent of respondents said that they voted for candidates who support Rouhani, while only 22% said that they voted for his critics.
The survey was conducted among a representative sample of 1,005 Iranians contacted by telephone between March 3 and March 13. It followed an earlier poll conducted February 15-24 on the eve of the first round of election. The telephone calls, which included some 30 questions, were placed from Toronto. They both had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2%.
Perhaps the most worrisome finding was a decline in enthusiasm for the JCPOA and in public confidence that Washington will live up to its commitments. Although overall approval of the JCPOA remains strong at 71%, the percentage of respondents who said that they “strongly” approved of the deal has fallen steadily from a high of 43% in August (a few weeks after the JCPOA between the P5+1 and Iran was concluded) to 27% in the latest survey.
Confidence that the U.S. will abide by the deal has also slipped—from 45% in a September survey by the Gallup organizations to 29%, according to CISSM. Although 41% of respondents said in September that they were either “not very” or “not at all” confident about Washington’s compliance, the new poll found that figure had risen to 66%. The pollsters did not probe the reasons for the increase in skepticism, although it may relate either to the continuing imposition of sanctions as well as coverage of the election campaign here.
Nonetheless, both the decline in support for the JCPOA and the skepticism about U.S. compliance may account for a decline in enthusiasm for Rouhani, according to CISSM. Although his favorability rating remains extraordinarily high—84% in the current poll—those respondents who say they have a “very favorable” view of the president have fallen from 61% last August to 40% this month.
This decline may also be related to views of the economy, according to CISSM’s analysis. In a poll taken last May, 54% agreed with the proposition that the country’s economic situation was good. Only 46% say that now. At the same time, 52% are optimistic that the economy is improving, as opposed to a third who said it is it is getting worse.
Consistent with Rouhani’s view, a large majority (64%) said that they favored increasing economic engagement with western countries. That included 54% of self-described critics of Rouhani. Nonetheless, a larger number (58%) continue to put a higher priority on achieving economic self-sufficiency—a quest repeatedly stressed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—than increasing trade with other countries, which is seen as a priority by only 36% of Iranians.
Many of the questions directed at respondents were designed to probe their identification with various political tendencies that will be represented in the new parliament. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said that they actually cast ballots in the election.
As expected, support for Rouhani was concentrated mainly among those who voted for Reformist and independent candidates, although 50% of respondents who voted for candidates from the conservative Principlist group said that they supported the president. Thirty-three percent of respondents said that they voted for candidates they believed were Reformist, 35% said that they voted for those they believed were Principlists, and 24% said that they voted for independents.
Sixty-one percent of pro-Principlist voters, 81% of pro-Reformist voters, and 71% of voters for independents said that they supported the JCPOA.
As to the election itself, 44% said that they considered it “very free and fair,” while another 39% said that they were “somewhat” free and fair. Asked about their satisfaction with the range of candidates they were able to vote for— the Guardian Council disqualified about 45% of the 12,000 candidates who filed to run for office—31% said that they were “very satisfied,” 39% said they were “somewhat satisfied,” and 17% expressed dissatisfaction.
The survey found majority support for Iran’s increasing its assistance to groups fighting the Islamic State (63%) and to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (51%). The poll also found strong support (86.5%) for collaborating with other countries to end the civil war in Syria, although only 46% said that they approved of Iran’s collaborating with the U.S. in helping the Iraqi government in fighting the Islamic State. In August, 58% favored such cooperation.