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Iranian support for nuclear deal reflects misunderstanding, poll shows

Iranians celebrate on the streets following a nuclear deal with major powers, in Tehran July 14, 2015. A new poll suggests Iranian public support for the pact reflects misunderstandings about the potential lifting of economic sanctions.

TIMA/REUTERS

Support for the controversial pact to curb Tehran's ambitious nuclear program is strong in Iran, where many expect it to end isolation and spur economic growth, but those hopes reflect widespread misunderstanding about what's in the deal, a poll conducted by a Canadian firm reveals.

Three in four Iranians back the agreement, according to the poll conducted last month by IranPoll, an independent Toronto-based group, for the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland.

The centre said support for Tehran's agreement with the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia evidently reflects widespread – but faulty – expectations among Iranians that sanctions will be lifted quickly and completely and that Iran's nuclear program can continue unabated.

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"Much of the support for the agreement … appears to rest on a series of misperceptions about what Iran has and has not agreed to do under the agreement and on unrealistic expectations about the effect of sanctions relief on Iran," the centre said in a statement accompanying release of the poll's findings.

Meanwhile in Washington, support in Congress among Senate Democrats cleared the critical hurdle of 41, sufficient to thwart Republican efforts to pass legislation rejecting the pact. The bill was backed by all Republicans, who hold majorities in both Houses of Congress, and Democrats who support Israel, such as Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. Now that U.S. President Barack Obama has reached the threshold of at least 40 senators backing him, he will not need to use his veto, because the bill will never reach the Oval Office.

Polls show a majority of Americans oppose the nuclear deal with Tehran despite Mr. Obama's efforts over the past month to persuade voters it will promote peace and give up little to Tehran's ruling theocracy.

"There is no such thing as a better deal. There is no plausible alternative. There is no better deal," one of the President's key supporters, Minority Senate Leader Harry Reid, said Tuesday in a speech to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In Iran, in sharp contrast to U.S. polls, there is broad public backing for the politicians who delivered a breakthrough deal with the "Great Satan," as the United States has been dubbed since the two countries became bitter adversaries after the 1979 Islamic Revolution toppled the Shah.

President Hassan Rouhani, regarded as more moderate and pragmatic than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was elected after vowing to end crippling sanctions.

"President Rouhani is widely viewed as having fulfilled his most important campaign promise, to get sanctions lifted without abandoning the nuclear program," said Ebrahim Mohseni, a research associate at CISSM.

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But the centre's statement added that much of the support for Mr. Rouhani also appears based on a misunderstanding of the agreement.

An overwhelming majority, 77 per cent, of Iranian respondents believe, wrongly, that sanctions will be lifted immediately, and most incorrectly believe U.S. unilateral sanctions will also be lifted.

As for Iran's nuclear program, more than 90 per cent of Iranians continue to regard it as very, or somewhat important, more than half believe the pact requires no curbs on it.

It is expected that, once reality sets in, and especially if high hopes for rapid growth in jobs and the economy fade, early Iranian enthusiasm for the deal may dwindle.

"While support for the deal and President Rouhani is currently strong, it may dissipate, as Iranians become more familiar with Iran's commitments under the deal, and particularly if the deal does not quickly produce tangible improvements in people's lives," Mr. Mohseni said.

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International Affairs and Security Correspondent

Paul More

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