Cover: What Do Iranians Think?

What Do Iranians Think?

A Survey of Attitudes on the United States, the Nuclear Program, and the Economy

Published May 2, 2011

by Sara Beth Elson, Alireza Nader

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The June 2009 Iranian presidential election and the subsequent popular protests revealed the importance of public opinion in driving change in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a country of strategic importance for the United States. To gauge Iranian attitudes on critical issues affecting U.S. interests, RAND conducted a phone survey of Iranian public opinion, asking questions about U.S.-Iranian relations and related topics, such as sanctions, the state of the Iranian economy, and the Iranian nuclear program. The survey also delved into public opinion on the United States, examining attitudes toward historical and current factors shaping relations between the two countries, U.S. policies toward Iran, and the Obama administration.

The survey revealed that respondents were deeply divided on issues that define Iranian politics, including the state of the economy, the nuclear program, and U.S.-Iranian relations. Nevertheless, a majority of those expressing an opinion opposed the reestablishment of U.S.-Iranian ties, and there was also significant support for development of nuclear weapons. In addition, negative attitudes toward the Iranian economy were less prevalent than expected, and many respondents did not consider sanctions to have had a significant negative impact on Iran's economy. The survey also suggested that Iranians with higher incomes, higher levels of education, and access to multiple sources of information may be more supportive of Iranian policies that are more favorable to U.S. interests. U.S. policies meant to shape Iranian behavior may be more effective if they focus on this particular sector of the Iranian population.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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