Poll: Pessimism on the Rise Among Iranians

by Derek Davison

New findings from an IranPoll/University of Maryland survey, conducted after the protests that struck several Iranian cities last month, find that the Iranian people are increasingly pessimistic about the state of Iran’s economy and its relationship with the West.

When asked about the state of the Iranian economy, 68.9 percent of respondents say it is either somewhat or very bad. This is up from 63.4 percent in June of last year. Moreover, the percentage of respondents who say conditions are very bad has gone up from 33.9 percent last June to 40.7 percent. When asked whether the economy is getting better or worse, 58.4 percent say worse and 31.3 percent say better, compared with 50.2 and 39.1 percent, respectively, in June. Only 17.3 percent say that their own family’s economic situation has improved over the past four years, down from 23 percent in May of last year.

Iranians’ specific complaints about the state of the economy seem to revolve primarily around corruption and poverty. For example, when asked in an open-ended question to name the single biggest problem facing Iran, 40.1 percent say unemployment, making it far and away the most frequently cited problem. And when asked whether foreign pressure or domestic corruption is the greater hindrance to the economy, 63.3 percent cite domestic corruption compared to 32.1 percent who choose foreign pressure.

Large majorities seem to agree with many of the economic complaints made by the December protesters. For example, 85.2 percent agreed with the statement “the government should do more to fight financial and bureaucratic corruption in Iran,” 81.3 percent agreed that “the government should do more to keep the price of food products from increasing,” 73.2 percent agreed that “the government should not increase the price of gasoline,” and 69.2 agreed that “the government should not cut cash subsidies,” a component of President Hassan Rouhani’s new budget and one that the Iranian parliament is currently challenging.

Support for the Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA), after ticking up a bit in 2017, is once again on the decline. Only 55.1 percent of Iranians strongly or somewhat approve of the deal, compared with 67.1 percent in June. That figure is comparable to what it was in December 2016, the deal’s previous low point in terms of Iranian popular support. When asked if the deal and its resulting sanctions relief have improved the lives of Iranians, 74.8 percent said that they had not, up from 70.3 percent in June. A slim majority, 52.5 percent, believes that Iran has not received the benefits it was promised under the accord.

For most Iranians, there is one reason why they haven’t felt the full benefits of the JCPOA: the United States—or perhaps, to be more specific, Donald Trump. Over 60 percent believe that the United States has not lifted all the sanctions it agreed to lift under the deal, a figure significantly higher than the 38.9 percent who believed that in December 2016. A whopping 90.2 percent believe that Iran’s relationship with the U.S. has either worsened or not improved as a result of the deal, up from 67.7 percent last May. And 86.4 percent are not very confident or not confident at all that the U.S. will meet its JCPOA obligations, up from 71.6 percent in May. Overall, 78 percent of Iranians believe that the United States has violated either the letter or the spirit of the JCPOA.

As for Europe, Iranians are feeling more positive. Sixty percent are very or somewhat confident that European nations will meet their JCPOA obligations, up from 53.4 percent in May. But 92.6 percent believe that the U.S. is trying to prevent other countries from normalizing political and economic relations with Iran (which would violate the JCPOA), compared with 80.9 percent who felt that way in May. Of the 73 percent who believe European countries are moving slower than they could to do business with Iran, 83.4 percent believe the reason is U.S. pressure.

When asked about Trump and his threats to withdrawn from the nuclear accord, Iranians are defiant. On Trump’s overall policies toward Iran, 69.2 percent characterize them as “completely hostile,” which contributes to 93.5 percent having a somewhat or very unfavorable view of the United States. If the U.S. is found to be in violation of the JCPOA, 58.7 percent believe the Iranian government should respond by restarting some of the elements of its nuclear program that it agreed to freeze under the JCPOA. If Trump pulls the U.S. out of the agreement, 52.8 percent believe Iran should withdraw as well—though 54.6 percent would either strongly or somewhat support an Iranian decision to continue abiding by the deal’s terms as long as the other members of the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia) did so as well.

As for Trump’s demands to renegotiate parts of the JCPOA, most Iranians reject the idea. Over 64 percent say that Iran should not agree to renegotiate limits on its nuclear program “under any circumstances,” while over 70 percent say that Iran should not agree to suspend its missile development program even under threat of American sanctions. The latter figure is unsurprising, given that 73.8 percent say that Iran’s missile program is “very important.”

Most troubling may be the conclusion that Iranians have drawn from the JCPOA experience. A sizable majority (67.4 percent) agree that “the JCPOA experience shows that it is not worthwhile for Iran to make concessions, because Iran cannot have confidence that if it makes a concession world powers will honor their side of an agreement.” Although this may be welcome news to the Trump administration and the neoconservatives who seem increasingly to be directing its foreign policy, any future administration that wants to pursue negotiations with Iran may find rocky road ahead of it.

Photo: caretaker of a mosque in ZarAbad in Qazvin province (Hamed Masoumi via Flickr).

Derek Davison

Derek Davison is an analyst covering U.S. foreign policy and international affairs and the writer/editor of the newsletter Foreign Exchanges. His writing has appeared at LobeLog, Jacobin, and Foreign Policy in Focus.



  1. I’d like to see Dr Hossein Zadeh’s, an economic specialist, opinion! Based on previous polling by the UoM i’m questioning the accuracy of its polls!

  2. An Iran poll by the University of Maryland….I had to read that SIX times to let it sink in.
    God help us all.

  3. Just for context, the price of gasoline in Iran is now about 38 cents/litre. it used to be 28 cents The massive govt subsidies were just underwriting smugglers and promoting waste as well as increasing inflation.

  4. Well thanks for the info, but pessimistic Iranians are not at the top of my concern list because I’m in the USA, where discontent over unemployment helped elect a TV star – tycoon. Even Iran can’t claim that honor.

    US poll, 2009: Thirty-six percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Monday morning said unemployment is the most important economic issue facing the country today.

    US polls, 2016: Americans think the economy is in far worse shape than it is. The U.S. unemployment rate is only 4.9%, but 57% of Americans believe it’s a lot higher than that. . .Nearly half of unemployed Americans have quit looking for work, and the numbers are even worse for the long-term jobless, according to a poll released Wednesday that paints a grim picture of the labor market.

  5. Polling or any measurement of mood and attitude of common people have a lot to do with a person’s personal well being or lack of it in his/her small world and are not any indications of a country’s economy. The core issue raised by Mr Davison could be true but Iran economy’s making good progress specially in the past few years as per professor Hossein Zadeh, an Iranian economics teacher here in US. However, he believes that Iran economy can not afford having 80% of its people on Well Fair! Besides that Mr Rouhani, Iran president, announced yesterday that the government in Iran employs 4million people out of 84 millions total population! Comparing this employee number in Iran with 1 million government employees in the US and in Japan indicates that the government in Iran which is the largest employer in that country is extremely inefficient impedes economic progress! Of course all this is due to a few or lack of foreign investments in Iran to create more jobs in the private sector. Of course the government is obligated to hire more people for keeping its people quiet!

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