A new survey of Iranian public opinion contains some interesting findings. A large majority of Iranians (78%) believes it is very important for Iran to continue to develop its nuclear program, but the public has soured on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with only 51% now expressing support for the agreement. It is understandable that support for the deal has declined when Iran has seen so few of the promised benefits and has also been subjected to renewed U.S. sanctions for no good reason.
Iranians are very wary of negotiating with major powers: 72% agree that the nuclear deal experience has shown them that “it is not worthwhile for Iran to make concessions when negotiating with world powers, because Iran cannot have confidence that if it makes a concession world powers will honor their side of an agreement.” The lesson that most Iranians have taken from the nuclear deal is that their government gave away too much without getting much in return. U.S. deal-breaking has convinced them that they can’t trust foreign governments to honor their bargains.
There is broad popular support for the continuation of missile development. 76% say it is very important for Iran to keep doing this, and another 19% say it is somewhat important. When we understand that support for Iran’s missile program comes from the experience of the Iran-Iraq war and missiles are seen as an essential part of the country’s defense, it makes sense that there would be overwhelming backing for it. The answers to the follow-up question confirm this. 36% of those that answered that it was important to continue this work cited defending the country against its enemies as the main reason. 18% cited the need to deter others from attacking Iran, another 10% cited the need to defend Iran in case of war, 15% said it was necessary to maintain or increase Iran’s security, and 7% said it was to counter threats from the U.S. and Israel. Almost every reason given for continued development of Iran’s missile program emphasizes that it is for defense and deterrence.
Finally, Iranian views of the U.S. have become significantly more negative over the last few years. A majority (52%) held a very unfavorable view of the U.S. in August 2015 as the nuclear deal negotiations were being concluded, but 30% had come to hold favorable views of America. As of December 2018, the very unfavorable number had jumped up to 72% and only 15% still viewed America favorably. There was a gradual improvement in how Iranians perceived the U.S. at the height of the nuclear negotiations, but because of the slow delivery of sanctions relief and then the abandonment of the nuclear deal and reimposition of sanctions most Iranians have a very negative view of the U.S. The longer that the sanctions are in place and the more that ordinary Iranians suffer hardship as a result, the worse those figures are going to get. It is risible to think that a nation that overwhelmingly distrusts our government and views the U.S. unfavorably would welcome further U.S. interference in their affairs. Iran hawks have succeeded in turning what was once one of the most pro-American populations in the Middle East against the U.S. for the foreseeable future.