Polls in Iran and U.S. Show Shared Concerns and Differences
WorldPublicOpinion.Org, November - December 2006
Two concurrent surveys of public opinion in Iran and the United States, conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org in partnership with Search for Common Ground, reveal important areas of agreement on the issue of non-proliferation. But they also demonstrate the strength of Iranian resistance to negotiating away their nuclear energy capabilities.
Most Iranians want their country to have the capacity to enrich uranium for nuclear energy, but a majority also agrees that Iran should comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which forbids signatories from developing nuclear weapons. A majority of Americans are ready to accept a deal allowing Iran to engage in limited enrichment if it also agrees to give UN inspectors full access to make sure that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons.
An overwhelming nine out of ten Iranians say it is important for Iran to have the capacity to enrich uranium. Majorities cite as key reasons the need to secure their country’s energy needs, to enhance its technical competence and to enhance its great power status. Both Iranians and Americans express concern about the threat posed by a disruption in their energy supplies.
Ninety-one percent of Iranians consider it important for Iran to have a "full-fuel-cycle nuclear program," a term widely used in the Iranian press to describe a uranium enrichment program. This includes 84 percent who say that having such a program is "very important." Only 4 percent said having the capacity to enrich such a program was not important for Iran.
Although Iran is an oil exporting country, the survey findings suggest that Iranians feel they cannot rely on their domestic supply of fossil fuels indefinitely. Fifty-nine percent say they see "disruption in energy supply" as either a critical (47%) or an important (12%) threat to Iran’s vital interests over the next decade....
Americans agree with most Iranians on nearly all the major questions related to nuclear weapons proliferation. A large majority (78%) says it is a good idea for the United States to be a signatory of the NPT, though fewer Americans than Iranians say they are aware of its provisions. Like Iranians, Americans strongly favor the elimination of all nuclear weapons (82%). And majorities in both countries (71% each) say they would like to see a "nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East that would include both Islamic countries and Israel."
Americans share Iranian pessimism about the future of the non-proliferation regime. They believe overwhelmingly (91%) that there will be more nuclear-armed countries within fifty years. Unlike Iranians, however, Americans are convinced that Iran will be one of these new nuclear states (86%).
The full report of findings on non-proliferation attitudes is found on the WorldPublicOpinion.org Web site.
Iranians and Americans Believe Islam and West Can Find Common Ground
Concurrent polls of the United States and Iran reveal deep antagonism between the two publics: Iranians and Americans have largely negative views of the other’s government, current president, people and culture. But the polls also show that both Iranians and Americans support international law and institutions and share the conviction that the divide between their two countries and cultures can be bridged. Both favor a stronger United Nations, approve of taking specific steps to improve bilateral relations and believe that—despite their differences—Western and Islamic nations can find common ground.
Similar majorities of Americans and Iranians agree with the statement, "Most people in the West and the Islamic world have similar needs and wants, so it is possible to find common ground." About a third of Americans and only a quarter of Iranians choose the counter-argument that "Islamic and Western religious and social traditions are incompatible with each other." ...
Most Iranians have negative attitudes toward the United States. Seventy-six percent say their opinion of the United States is unfavorable (65 percent very) and only 22 percent say it is favorable (5% very). Views of the current U.S. government are even worse: 93 percent unfavorable (84% very). This is about equal to the 92 percent of Iranians who hold an unfavorable opinion of President Bush (86% very).
Iranians' negative views of the United States extend to American culture (at least in general terms). More than three in four Iranians (78%) express an unfavorable opinion of American culture, including 67 percent who say very unfavorable. They are more divided in their attitudes toward the American people, however. Forty-nine percent look unfavorably on Americans (33% very) while 45 percent look favorably (9% very).
Most Americans, in turn, have negative feelings toward Iran. When asked about Iran’s influence in the world, four in five Americans (80%) say it is mainly negative and only one in ten (10%) say mainly positive. Seventy-eight percent say they have an unfavorable view of the Iranian government, including 43 percent very unfavorable.
Americans are more likely than Iranians to have a negative view of the other country's people. Fifty-nine percent say they view the Iranian people unfavorably 20% very), while only 29 percent have a favorable opinion....
Despite their mutually negative views of each other, Iranians and Americans tend to look positively on a series of measures aimed at strengthening U.S.-Iranian relations. Strong majorities of Americans support nearly all of the proposed steps while more modest majorities or pluralities of Iranians do.
Presented a list of possible steps for strengthening relations, Iranians tend to be most supportive (and least opposed) to improving trade relations. Fifty-two percent favor greater trade with the United States and only 26 percent are opposed. Nearly as many (51%) favor granting more access to journalists from both countries, though a large minority (39%) is opposed.
Other measures elicit more divided responses. While 48 percent of Iranians support direct talks between the two governments on issues of mutual concern, 42 percent do not. Having greater cultural, educational, and sporting exchanges between the two countries garners good support (46%) and relatively little opposition (31%). Having more "Americans and Iranians visit each other's countries as tourists" is seen as worthwhile by a plurality (48%) and opposed by nearly as many (44%)....
Americans are more supportive of such measures. Four out of five (79%) favor direct talks between the two governments, while only 14 percent are opposed. Sixty-five percent favor expansion of bilateral trade relations (27% oppose). Three in four (72%) strongly support measures to enhance cultural, educational, and sporting exchanges between the two countries (21% oppose) and 68% would like to see more access provided to each other's journalists (24% oppose)....
The full report on U.S. - Iranian relations is found on the WorldPublicOpinion.org Web site.
Iranians Overwhelmingly Reject Bin Laden
Iranians and Americans are both very concerned about the danger of terrorism, reject attacks against civilians overwhelmingly and share strongly negative views of Osama bin Laden.
Although the U.S. government has accused Iran's government of sponsoring international terrorism, the Iranian people themselves are somewhat more likely than Americans to oppose attacks that deliberately target civilians. It is important to note, however, that slim majorities of Iranians feel that some Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians are justified and view Hamas and Hezbollah favorably....
Seven in ten Iranians view international terrorism as an important threat to Iran's vital interests including 56 percent who see it as a critical threat. Only 12 percent call it "not important." Even more Iranians are concerned about terrorist attacks in their own country. Eighty-one percent call such attacks an important threat (66% critical).
American and Iranian concerns about the threat of terrorism are comparable in intensity. Ninety-five percent of Americans see terrorism as an important threat, including 68 percent who say it is a critical threat. Only 4 percent do not see terrorism as a threat. Ninety-five percent also view "terrorist attacks in our country" as an important threat.
Both Iranians and Americans have strongly negative views of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Three in four Iranians (74%) and more than nine in ten Americans (94%) view bin Laden unfavorably, including large majorities (68% and 89%, respectively) who view him very unfavorably. Only 10 percent of Iranians look at the al Qaeda leader favorably (2% Americans). Nine in ten Americans have a very unfavorable opinion of bin Laden and ninety-two percent of Americans say al Qaeda poses an important threat to the United States, including 59 percent who say it poses a critical one....
Americans--not surprisingly given the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001--consider Islamic militants to be a greater threat than do Iranians. Nine in ten Americans (92%) say al Qaeda is an important threat, including six in ten (59%) who say the militant group represents a critical threat. Nine in ten Americans (92%) also call Islamic sectarian militant groups an important threat (47% critical)....
The full report on Iranian and American attitudes toward terrorism is found on the WorldPublicOpinion.org Web site.