Posted by: sean | June 18, 2009

Pre-election polls in Iran

For those who have been following Iran closely, there’s a good chance that you’ve already seen this. But for those of you like me who haven’t, here is an interesting piece from two pollsters in the Washington Post:

The election results in Iran may reflect the will of the Iranian people. Many experts are claiming that the margin of victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the result of fraud or manipulation, but our nationwide public opinion survey of Iranians three weeks before the vote showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin — greater than his actual apparent margin of victory in Friday’s election.

While Western news reports from Tehran in the days leading up to the voting portrayed an Iranian public enthusiastic about Ahmadinejad’s principal opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, our scientific sampling from across all 30 of Iran’s provinces showed Ahmadinejad well ahead.

Independent and uncensored nationwide surveys of Iran are rare. Typically, preelection polls there are either conducted or monitored by the government and are notoriously untrustworthy. By contrast, the poll undertaken by our nonprofit organizations from May 11 to May 20 was the third in a series over the past two years. Conducted by telephone from a neighboring country, field work was carried out in Farsi by a polling company whose work in the region for ABC News and the BBC has received an Emmy award. Our polling was funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

What the op-ed piece doesn’t mention, however, is the wiggle room provided by a very large percentage of undecided voters. When the poll was done 27% of those polled said that they didn’t know whom they’d vote for. In contrast, 14% said Musavi and 34% said Ahmadenijad. From their report:

iran pollSo while this definitely shows Ahmadinejad ahead, the undecided voters are a gigantic wild card. Another 15% of those polled apparently refused to answer. So together with the 8% who said that they favored none of the candidates, that means that we’re unable to know how half of those polled intended to cast their ballot.

Again, I’m obviously not in a position to judge the results one way or another, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Ahmadinejad was much more popular than western media outlets have given him credit for. That said, I’d be interested to see exactly what the protesters want — has this gone further than feeling like their guy was robbed?

In any case, and whatever the outcome, I suspect the Iranian domestic political landscape will not look the same once the dust has settled.



  1. One should also note the timing of the poll – from May 11 to May 20. Moussavi announced he was running on May 9, leaving little time for his campaign to ramp up before this poll was even done.

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