New BBC Poll: Iran Unloved, But Not Isolated

For the sixth year in a row, Iran has the dubious distinction of being at the bottom of the list of 16 countries whose influence in world affairs is viewed favorably, according to a just released BBC public opinion survey.

The findings of the BBC World Service’s 2011 Country Rating Poll reveal that an average of only 16% of nearly 29,000 respondents in  27 countries queried regard the Islamic Republic’s global influence as being “mainly positive,” while 59% consider it to be “mainly negative.”  That’s  lower than North Korea, Pakistan and Israel, who are also among the bottom feeders in public popularity. (North Korea’s approval/disapproval ratings were 16%/55%; Pakistan’s 17%/56% and Israel’s 21%/49%.)

The methodology of the pollsters doesn’t presume respondents have any basic knowledge, let alone expertise, about current world affairs. It’s more of an instantaneous free association quiz: the pollster names a country, and the respondent offers his or her gut reaction. South Africa’s hosting the  2010 World Cup, for example, was presumably responsible for a 7-point surge in its popularity rating, according to the BBC World Service.

Not surprisingly, the sums of the positives and negatives for nearly all the countries on the list fall far short of 100, with “don’t know,” “not sure,” and “it depends” responses (not offered as an option by pollsters, but accepted nonetheless) making up the difference. Nor were respondents queried as to why they view any given country’s influence as positive or negative.

Germany ranked at the top of the 16 countries about which respondents were asked. The survey was conducted by Globescan/PIPA between late December 2010 and early February 2011. Germany’s favorable rating was 62%, with an unfavorable average of only 15%–a lower disapproval rate than any other country  except Canada (12% disapproval). Forty-nine percent of respondents rated U.S. influence positively, while 31% viewed it negatively. (See Jim Lobe’s analysis, Views of U.S. Influence Steadily Climb Under Obama.)

Iranian influence is regarded more favorably in the Middle East and Asia, however, than the average positive/negative figures would seem to imply, weighted as they are by the overwhelmingly negative views expressed by  respondents in North America, South America and Europe. A BBC press release noted that “There was a significant increase in negative views of Iran in key Western countries including the United Kingdom (up 20 points), Canada (up 19 points), the USA (up 18 points), and Australia (up 15 points).”

Nonetheless, digging through the data, Iran doesn’t fare quite as badly closer to home. Iran’s most positive ratings draw from Pakistan (41%), China (38%), Turkey (36%) and Indonesia (35%). Negative views of Iran expressed in these four countries countries range from a low of 13% in Pakistan to a high of 48% in China, and are shared by 35% of Indonesians and 36% of Turks. Despite the Islamic Republic’s apparent popularity in Pakistan, it polled relatively well in India too, attracting 27% favorable, 28% unfavorable ratings.

Although western media sources tend to emphasize the longstanding rivalry between Iran and Egypt for regional hegemony, as well as the reportedly irreconcilable differences between Sunnis and Shiites, Persians and Arabs, BBC poll data indicates that 25% percent of Egyptian respondents view Iran favorably, nearly the same number as view U.S. influence as positive (26%).  (The Egypt data was collected Dec. 5-12, 2010, before the popular uprising that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.) Nearly equal numbers of Turkish respondents approve of the influence of the U.S. (35%) and Iran (36%).

However, half of those polled, in countries long regarded as the staunchest Middle East allies of both the U.S. and of  Israel–50% in Egypt, 49% in Turkey– expressed negative views about U.S. influence, with only 32% of Egyptians and 45% of Turks worried about Iran. Turkey saw its own averages improve dramatically in this year’s BBC poll, with its positive ratings up by 22 percentage points and its negatives dropping by 21%.

In contrast, only 5% of Egyptians and 9% of Turks said they view Israeli influence as  positive, while more than three quarters (78% in Egypt; 77% in Turkey) expressed negativity about Israel, Iran’s nuclear nemesis. Israel also drew fewer favorable ratings than Iran in India (21%) and China (32%)–two countries with which it has attempted to cultivate trade and security relationships–Iran  garnering 27% and 38% approval ratings, as noted above.  In China, 48% of respondents were negative about Israeli influence, a view shared by only 18% of those polled in India.

Iran may not be loved, but it isn’t isolated either.

For the full text  of the BBC 2011 Country Rating Poll, click here.

Marsha B. Cohen

Marsha B. Cohen is an analyst specializing in Israeli-Iranian relations and US foreign policy towards Iran and Israel. Her articles have been published by PBS/Frontline's Tehran Bureau. IPS, Alternet, Payvand and Global Dialogue. She earned her PhD in International Relations from Florida International University, and her BA in Political Philosophy from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.



  1. The Sunni/Shia divide is no big deal. For Muslims in Magreb, and in most of Pakistan and all areas East-ward this is a non-issue. It’s not an issue in most ME cities. It has no effect in the Kurd/Sunni issue, through nearly all of Saudi Arabia, nor Jordan. It’s simply not an issue in their life. It’s more like the Methodist/Greek Orthodox divide–there is none. Most Americans know more about this “divide” than Muslims–which tells you all you need to know, this is hyped US propaganda.

    Understanding that, why would Muslim nations not sympathize with Iran? Does the American Protestant feel concern for the Catholic Irish? Of course.

  2. Iran not loved? Indian FM Menon reportedly told Ahmadinejad:

    “New Delhi is for the establishment of comprehensive relations with Iran, including strategic ties … many of the predictions you [Ahmadinejad] had about the political and economic developments in the world have come to reality today and the world order is going under basic alterations [sic], which has necessitated ever-increasing relations between Iran and India … The relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of India are beyond the current political relations, having their roots in the cultures and the civilizations and the two nations and both countries have great potentials for improvement of bilateral, regional and international relations.”

    Yep, the US is introducing a new world order, much to the delight of its enemies.

  3. Iran has not launched an aggressive war modern history (unlike the US or Israel), and its leaders have a doctrine of “no first strike. On the other hand, the ongoing occupation of Palestine and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people by Israeli military force, imprisonment, torture, house demolition, through to the subtler and yet more psychologically abusive tactics of land expropriation, marriage laws, and a multitude of other laws that make it impossible for the Palestinian people to have a home and a culture

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