The Nuclear Deal Was A Win for Rouhani. But Iranians Have High Expectations.

by Jasmin Ramsey

A poll just out on Iranian public opinion in the wake of the historic nuclear deal reached in July indicates extensive domestic support for the accord and President Hassan Rouhani. That said, the support is tied to several prevailing misperceptions about the deal, so it remains to be seen whether this trend will continue.

Three in four Iranians support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) according to the survey. Rouhani’s approval rating—now a whopping 88%—has accordingly improved with a large majority (61%) expressing a “very favorable view” of him (up from 51% in July 2014).

The first of its kind since the JCPOA was signed in Vienna on July 14, the poll of 1,000 Iranians was conducted by telephone Aug 8-18 by the independent for the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies (CISSM). The margin of error was +/-3.2%.

“President Rouhani is widely viewed as having fulfilled his most important campaign promise to get sanctions lifted without abandoning the nuclear program,” said Ebrahim Mohseni, a research associate at CISSM. “The deal is helping [him] consolidate his political position.”

The poll follows this month’s major Citizen Cabinet survey, which found that when they’re adequately informed about the alternatives, a majority of Americans also support the deal. Jim Lobe analyzed those results here.

Hopes and Assumptions

Polling Iranians on a range of subjects, the CISSM survey found warming views on the United States and other P5+1 countries (UK, France, Germany, China and Russia) as a result of the deal.

A plurality of Iranians (49%) now say that they trust the P5+1 (up from 39% in May). Iranians also expect the deal to improve their country’s relations with European countries (89%) and the United States (57%).

An overwhelming majority (84.6%) of Iranians, meanwhile, said that it’s “very important” for Iran to continue to develop its nuclear program. That consistently held view is particularly important since 56% erroneously believe that their government has not agreed to limit its nuclear research and development activities.


Sixty-percent of Iranians also incorrectly believe that under the agreement the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) cannot inspect military sites under specific conditions. Seventy-six percent say that if Parliament concludes that the deal is at odds with national interests, it should be able to prevent the agreement from taking place.

Perhaps most importantly, 76% of Iranians expressed erroneous views about the timing of the lifting of sanctions, with 44% expecting sanctions to be lifted at the same time that Iran takes most of the steps it has agreed to under the accord. Thirty-two percent believe that sanctions will be lifted before that time. According to the deal, the sanctions will only be lifted after Iran verifiably implements most of its commitments.


Fifty-nine percent of Iranians also believe that all US sanctions on Iran will be lifted eventually. But sanctions unrelated to Iran’s nuclear program will remain in place.

Economic Expectations

Iranians are also expecting a quicker uptick in the economy than what they’re likely to get (57% think it’s already getting better), with the majority expecting a tangible improvement in their standard of living in the next six months to a year.


How will Iranians react once their high expectations about the nature of the benefits of the deal go unrealized?

“[S]upport for the deal and by extension President Rouhani will mostly depend on whether people actually feel the benefits of the deal,” Mohseni told Lobelog. “If they feel the benefits, they are more likely to be more tolerant of realities that deviate from their current assumptions.”

He added, “But things could definitely turn sour if they realize the deal deviates from their assumptions and fails to produce tangible benefits at the same time.”

Candidates aligned with the Rouhani government’s policies, including centrists and reformists, are expected to win substantial support as a result of the landmark deal in February’s parliamentary elections, which will take place before Iranian patience for the benefits runs out.

It will be interesting to see how that support fares a year from now.

Amir Farmanesh, the president of and a visiting professor at the University of Toronto, told LobeLog that tangible economic benefits are the deal’s “Achilles’ heel” inside Iran.

Rouhani faces a “tough challenge” in maintaining the support the deal has afforded him, Farmanesh said, because Iran’s economic problems are not solely related to sanctions but also chronic mismanagement: “President Rouhani could benefit from the positive psychological effect that the deal will have on the economy, and undertake the much harder challenge of his presidency: reforming the Iranian economy and strengthening an independent stable private sector.”

Photo Credit: ISNA/Hamid Forootan

The visual charts in this article were created by CISSM/PPC.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.