In recent weeks, World Public Opinion conducted a series of polls on Iranians in Iran and found some surprising results. The polls concluded that a majority of Iranians support Ahmadinejad’s legitimacy as president, only a very small minority have a favorable opinion of President Barack Obama, and a majority favor Iran’s election process, method of governance, respect of freedoms, and system of theocracy. However, these polls by World Public Opinion – a project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland – lie in stark contrast with the recent images and films to come out of Iran that display vast discontent among the Iranian masses of these very issues. So, is there a catch?
While websites are using the polls as solid information to back claims that Ahmadinejad actually enjoys legitimacy in Iran, certain information about these polls does not seem to have raised any eyebrows in the media or blogosphere. The most glaring piece that has been ignored is the very admission of one of these polls:
“Naturally a question that arises is whether respondents are freely speaking their minds in such a poll, especially when the Iranian government has been recently cracking down on dissent. As discussed below, the fact that one in four respondents refused to answer the question about who they voted for in the presidential election suggests that some people may have felt uncomfortable answering and thus the findings need to be viewed with caution and not as a clear indication of how people voted. Some questions for which we have trendline data also show a bit less readiness to take controversial positions in the current poll.
However, overall, it should be noted that on most questions the number of people who refused to answer was quite small and only in the question on the presidential vote were there large numbers of refusals, though respondents always had that option. More significantly, in many questions large numbers, in some cases majorities, took positions that were less than fully complimentary of the government, the Iranian system, and government policies.”
Authors and journalists might be referring to this report as fact, but the conductors of the poll themselves have expressed doubt about the accuracy of their own polls and whether it actually demonstrates that a majority supports Ahmadinejad. If one were to scrutinize the semantics further, the statement, “people may have felt uncomfortable answering…of how people voted,” is a gross underestimate of the reality on the ground in Iran. The Iranian people live under constant duress not to be individually affiliated with any opposition member, party, or group. With Iran’s and the ruthlessness of its internal intelligence and surveillance ministry to locate and crush dissent, it is striking that more discussion or scrutiny is not placed on the methods to conduct the interview in the first place.
As the report notes its methodology:
“The survey was executed by means of computer-assisted-telephone interviewing by a professional research agency outside Iran. All interviewers were native Farsi speakers. Telephone interviewing and an outside agency were chosen for this study so that there would be no political constraints on questions asked or speculation about the influence of Iranian authorities on the data collection process.”
The lack of further elaboration on how this was achieved simply by the use of an “outside agency” in light of the Iranian regime’s crackdown on dissent makes the veracity of “no political constraints” hard to swallow.