Thursday, July 13, 2006

Inside Iran-Exclusive Reader's Digest / Zogby Poll of Iranians Reveals a Society in Flux

Zogby International:
While Iran’s nuclear program grabs headlines around the world, a new Reader’s Digest-Zogby International survey reports that Iranians (41%) said reforming their national economy so it operates more efficiently is more important than nuclear capability. A smaller number, 27%, said the country’s top priority should be to develop an arsenal of nuclear weapons, and 23% said the top goal for their government should be to expand the freedoms of its citizens.

Get the complete Iran poll results. READ MORE

These and other opinions were documented in a wide-ranging survey of Iranian citizens that revealed a sharp diversity of views consistent with a nation that is undergoing profound changes. The survey, which focused on a variety of subjects, including nuclear and regional politics, America, Israel and other nations, and cultural issues, included 810 Iranian adults, and carries a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points. The results are included in exclusive reports on Iran published in the August issue of Reader’s Digest magazine. Full results can be found online at and

“The Zogby poll presents a fascinating glimpse into public opinion in this vitally important part of the world,” said Conrad Kiechel, Editorial Director, Reader’s Digest International Editions. “The evening headlines typically frame the views of world leaders, but this survey provides an illuminating picture of what citizens are saying – and believing.”

The poll revealed a country divided on many issues, although united on the role that Iran should play in the region. Iranians said they believe their country should lead the region “diplomatically and militarily” – 56% supported this view, and only 12% said their country should not be the dominant regional power. Nearly equal percentages of respondents want Iran to become more secular and liberal (31%) as want the country to become more religious and conservative (36%).

On one question, Iranians showed almost total agreement, regardless of age or gender. When asked if the state of Israel is illegitimate and should not exist, 67% agreed and only 9% disagreed.

Despite tensions between the United States and Iran, most Iranians – nearly two thirds – said they don’t believe that the two countries will go to war in the next decade.

Iranian men were more interested than women in making the economy work better. Among men, 47% said the economy should be a top government priority, while just 33% of women agreed. The older the respondent, the less important they considered development of a nuclear arsenal.

A majority said they would be willing to suffer through a bad economy if that were the price the country had to pay to develop its nuclear program. Also, 25% said they would blame the United States if the United Nations imposed nuclear-related sanctions, although nearly 40% said they were not sure whom to blame. Only one in six would blame Iran’s own government. If their country were to develop nuclear weapons, 25% said it would make the Middle East a safer place, but 35% disagreed with that statement.

When it came to their view of the United States, there was a split between the generations. Older Iranians were much more likely to admire the American people and society than younger Iranians. John Zogby, President and CEO of Zogby International, hypothesized that this generational split may be due in part to the lack of exposure to Americans over the past two decades.

Younger and older Iranians would favor a more conservative, religious society, while those aged 30–49 said they would favor a more liberal, secular culture. What is striking is that just 15% said Iranian culture should stay just the way it is right now. Women were more likely than men to say they wanted a more liberal, secular society. Among those Iranians with Internet access, 41% said they wanted a more religious culture, compared to 33% who said they wanted a more secular society.

“The poll illustrates the impact of 25 years of separation,” said Zogby. “The attitudes of younger Iranians toward the government, people and policies of the United States have been shaped by years of isolation, largely conservative religious leadership, and anti-U.S. rhetoric. This group is consistently more negative in its attitudes towards Americans and the American government than are older Iranians. However, new technology, including satellite television and the Internet, could be used as tools that connect young Iranians with other nations in the region, and the West.”

Those technologies – Internet access and satellite TV ownership – appeared to influence attitudes among Iranians, as did gender. Iranians with access to the Internet or satellite TV were significantly more likely than their “unconnected” compatriots to identify the United States as the country they admire the most. They were also significantly less likely to pick the U.S. government as the one they admire the least: one in three Iranians without Internet access (34%) chose the United States as least admired, compared with fewer than one in five Iranians with Internet access (18%), the poll shows.

The American government also appeared to attract more admiration from Iranians who favor a more secular or liberal direction for Iran.

Zogby International is a leading polling firm with experience in 65 countries and worldwide reach. It specializes in survey research in hard-to-reach areas, including Africa, the Middle East and China. As an industry leader, it continues to develop innovative solutions in opinion research, including its interactive polling division, using online technology to generate accurate results in many American political elections. Zogby has offices in Utica, N.Y., Washington D.C., and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. (NYSE: RDA) is a global publisher and direct marketer of products that inform, entertain and inspire people of all ages and cultures around the world. About 80 million people in more than 60 countries read Reader’s Digest, the largest-circulation magazine in the world. It is published in 50 editions, and in 21 languages. The company’s corporate website is
A few observations.

First, the idea that a US firm can produce a reliable poll making unsolicited calls to people in a totalitarian regime is hard to comprehend. The fact that anyone would choose to express an opinion different from those of the regime demonstrates the level of frustration people have with the government. Remember that Iran is a nation that has complete control over its phone and internet access to the outside world. Participation in a US poll in Iran is seen as cooperating with "the enemy" and those that do so in the country, if caught, are likely to be interrogated by the intelligence services and may be subjected to torture and imprisonment, not just for yourself but for your friends and family as well. Telling the pollster what he/she thinks the government would want them to say is far easier.

Case in point, poll was taken a few years ago at the request of the Iranian Parliament and the pollsters were imprisoned. Patrick Clawson wrote:
While anti-Americanism has deep resonance in the Arab world, the situation is quite different in Iran, where the United States has in recent years become profoundly popular.

One indicator was the September 2002 poll commissioned by the Iranian Majlis' National Security Committee which found that 74 percent of Iranians favored resumption of relations with the United States and 46 percent felt that U.S. policies on Iran were "to some extent correct," despite the fact that Iranian media constantly harped on Bush's "axis of evil" remark in his January 2002 State of the Union speech.(1) The Ayandeh Institute pollsters who conducted this poll, Abbas Abdi and Hossein Ali Qazian, were sentenced to jail terms of eight and nine years respectively for "publishing nonscientific research.

If this is how the regime reacts to those that participate with a government sponsored poll imagine what is racing through the minds of Iranian receiving a call from a US (i.e. the Great Satan) pollster.

Second, it is important to know the exact questions that were asked of those being polled and the methodology being used. We would need to see an English and Persian version of the survey questions to properly understand the results.

Third, given Zogby's more recent records in domestic elections one should not expect their results to be better in a foreign (totalitarian) state.

Finally, the spiritual mentor of Iranian President Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi recently told an audience that if they could gain 10% support among the Iranian population they could see an ideal government. I suspect that Yazdi has a better understanding of the Iranian public than does Zogby sitting in Washington D.C.